Tuesday, January 16, 2007

US Law School Deans united on Guantanamo detainees

I mentioned yesterday that Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles “Cully” Stimson called for business clients of law firms which employ people also representing Gunatanamo detainees to lean on those firms to drop these cases. It has provoked a response from a plethora of US deans of law:

"We, the undersigned law deans, are appalled by the January 11, 2007 statement of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles 'Cully' Stimson, criticizing law firms for their pro bono representation of suspected terrorist detainees and encouraging corporate executives to force these law firms to choose between their pro bono and paying clients.

As law deans and professors, we find Secretary Stimson's statement to be contrary to basic tenets of American law. We teach our students that lawyers have a professional obligation to ensure that even the most despised and unpopular individuals and groups receive zealous and effective legal representation. Our American legal tradition has honored lawyers who, despite their personal beliefs, have zealously represented mass murderers, suspected terrorists, and Nazi marchers. At this moment in time, when our courts have endorsed the right of the Guantanamo detainees to be heard in courts of law, it is critical that qualified lawyers provide effective representation to these individuals. By doing so, these lawyers protect not only the rights of the detainees, but also our shared constitutional principles. In a free and democratic society, government officials should not encourage intimidation of or retaliation against lawyers who are fulfilling their pro bono obligations.

We urge the Administration promptly and unequivocally to repudiate Secretary Stimson?s remarks."

This blunt Chicago Tribune article spells out exactly why the people incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay need high quality legal representation.

Sometime before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, a man named Abdul Aliza was taken from his home and his family in Afghanistan and was forced at gunpoint to work for the Taliban as a cook's assistant.

Interrogated years later by U.S. officers at the military prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba, Aliza insisted that he had never joined with the fighting against America or its allies.

"Did you fight against the Northern Alliance . . . or any United States forces?" Aliza was asked, according to a transcript the Pentagon released.

"I have never fought," Aliza answered. "I was forcefully taken."

"What did you do while in captivity or while you were with the Taliban?"

"I served them food."

Officers told Aliza that having been kidnapped by the Taliban and forced to serve as a cook or a waiter was irrelevant to whether Aliza was an enemy combatant. Aliza found this impossible to comprehend...

Bush administration officials have assured the American people that Guantanamo keeps us safe because it keeps dangerous Al Qaeda terrorists off the street.

But the Pentagon's data show that only 8 percent of the prisoners at the base are even alleged to have been Al Qaeda fighters--assuming the allegations against them are true...

Much of the problem has to do with the words and definitions the administration uses.

Being an enemy combatant does not mean a prisoner did anything wrong, the administration said in documents written by the Department of Defense in 2004.

The term does not require evidence that a prisoner knowingly took any action against the United States, or even that he was a willing participant in the conflict. As a result, many prisoners at the base are, by any reasonable standard, completely innocent.

...in the past, we sensibly distinguished enemy soldiers from unwilling servants. Today, we conjure up combatants from the Taliban's cooks. Some of the men identified in this article spent years at Guantanamo before their eventual release without any charges; the rest, along with nearly 400 others, linger there still."

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