Cully Stimson has written a letter to the Washington Post. In full, it reads:
During a radio interview last week, I brought up the topic of pro bono work and habeas corpus representation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not.
I believe firmly that a foundational principle of our legal system is that the system works best when both sides are represented by competent legal counsel. I support pro bono work, as I said in the interview. I was a criminal defense attorney in two of my three tours in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps. I zealously represented unpopular clients — people charged with crimes that did not make them, or their attorneys, popular in the military. I believe that our justice system requires vigorous representation.
I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs
This is a half a loaf of an apology. Last week, Stimson made two claims. The second, which this apology retracts, related to law firm motive: “Some will maintain that they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they’re doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are; others are receiving moneys from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.” But the first claim – which was the real problematic one – isn’t really addressed by the letter:
“I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”
Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but I think the rest of the letter has the flavor of supporting lawyers for society’s Gideons, not its Hamdans. It’s true that half a loaf is better than nothing, and it reflects well on Stimson that he is willing to say he was wrong in a public forum. But he should have gone further.