January 29, 2007

Fighting Back

If it were not for the depths to which we've descended, the provocation for these events would not have occurred in the form it did, or occurred at all. Even with an appreciation of the dire nature of where we are, it is nonetheless greatly encouraging to read this story:
Two weeks after a senior Pentagon official suggested that corporations should pressure their law firms to stop assisting detainees at Guantanamo Bay, major companies have turned the tables on the Pentagon and issued statements supporting the law firms' work on behalf of terrorism suspects.

The corporate support for the lawyers comes as law associations and members of Congress have expressed outrage at the remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles D. "Cully" Stimson on Jan. 11.

In a radio interview, Stimson stated the names of a dozen law firms that volunteer their services to represent detainees, and he suggested that the chief executives of the firms' corporate clients would make the lawyers "choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms."

He said he expected the newly public list of law firms that do work at Guantanamo Bay to spark a cycle of negative publicity for them. Instead, Stimson himself became the center of nationwide criticism and later apologized for the remarks.

The episode has become an embarrassing chapter in the Pentagon's long-running battle with the detainees' lawyers and appears to have spurred public support for the legal rights of the detainees, nearly 400 of whom just marked the start of their sixth year of incarceration at the base.

Charles Rudnick, a spokesman for Boston Scientific Corp., said the company supports the decision of its law firm, WilmerHale, to represent six men who were arrested in Bosnia in 2001 "because our legal system depends on vigorous advocacy for even the most unpopular causes."

Brackett Denniston, senior vice president and general counsel of General Electric, said the company strongly disagrees with the suggestion that it discriminate against law firms that do such work. "Justice is served when there is quality representation even for the unpopular," Denniston said in a statement.

Verizon issued a similar statement.


Support for the defense of Guantanamo detainees has become so widely accepted that two Newton attorneys are defraying the cost of their trips to Guantanamo Bay by collecting donations from the public.

Doris Tennant and Ellen Lubell have collected $7,000 in the past three weeks toward the estimated $20,000 they expect to spend defending an Algerian detainee known as Number 744.
But the government has succeeded in one respect:
Some lawyers said publicizing the names of the law firms had achieved one of Stimson's objectives -- distracting attention from the roughly 395 men who remain imprisoned.

"It backfired to the extent that they didn't get the kind of support that they were hoping," said Neil McGaraghan, a Boston-based attorney at Bingham McCutchen, which represents a group of ethnic Uighurs from China at Guantanamo Bay.

"But to the extent that it has drawn attention away from Guantanamo and focused it on the lawyers, it has worked."
McGaraghan is right: it should not even be a question that the Guantanamo prisoners are entitled to legal representation, from any firm willing to provide it. But this is all of a piece with the administration's relentless assault on the fundamental foundations of liberty in the United States, which has culminated (for the moment) in the despicable torture-dictatorship law, otherwise known as the Military Commissions Act.

The real issue, one which continues to be overlooked in many discussions of these questions, is the fact that the prison at Guantanamo exists at all, and in Guantanamo's particular significance in the scheme of massively expanding state power. For an analysis of this subject, see "Understanding the Significance of Guantanamo: The Symbol of Omnipotent Power."

Here's a related entry about the recent fifth anniversary of some of the Guantanamo prisoners' incarceration: "Five Years, Lost in Hell."