Lawyers, Bush officials quickly disavow Stimson remarks

January 15, 2007

Franklin is reputed to have said that truth wins in a fair fight. In the few days since Charles Stimson suggested the nation’s top lawfirms should not be representing clients being held in detention at Guantanamo Bay, condemnation has been swift, deep and broad. Even Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said lawyers should represent all accused. Perhaps the fight will be fair.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Stimson was not speaking for the Bush administration.

Stimson’s comments “do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the thinking of its leadership,” Maka told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Ethics courses, now required at all U.S. law schools, generally spend a great deal of time on the issue of the duty of attorneys to provide representation to all criminal defendants, even and especially those who are unpopular or held in disrepute. Such representation is queried on the ethics exams that all lawyers must take to be licensed.

History offers many examples of lawyers and the difficulties they face in providing such representation: John Adams representing the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre (Adams largely won; eight were tried, six were acquitted, two convicted and branded on their thumbs as punishment); John Quincy Adams representing the men being carried for slave trading aboard the errant Amistad ; Clarence Darrow’s representation of the accused murderers Leopold and Loeb, and other cases. In literature, we get the fictional lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the defense team in Inherit the Wind.

Perhaps we should be encouraged at the response to Mr. Stimson’s remarks. A lover of justice might be happier were these defenses of the legal system and the representation of all accused to be more apparently on display from government officials prior to and without such gaffes.

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Disclosure: A member of my immediate family is employed by Fulbright and Jaworski, one of the firms Mr. Stimson questioned — not in a legal capacity, not in representation of any of the Guantanamo Bay detainees. I was unaware of the firm’s being named by Mr. Stimson at the time of my first post. The views here, of course, should not in any way be construed as representative of any firm named, they are my own views.

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