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Hitting the Bottom Line

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Message Jayne Stahl
While the president has been busy poll dancing, a senior member of his beloved Pentagon has surfaced with some stunning comments about boycotting law firms who represent prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. "I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEO's see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEO's are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms," said Charles D. Stimson, a senior Pentagon official who handles those at Guantanamo Bay who are suspected of being terrorists. (NYT) Alarmngly, not only is Mr. Stimson himself an attorney, and one who served as a Navy lawyer, but he speaks about retribution for merely providing the minimum judicial requirement on the part of our criminal justice system, namely the right of every accused to counsel, and the presumption of innocence. What's more, Stimson speaks of hitting the bottom line as if he were on the golf course.

What is it that this highly placed Pentagoner finds so objectionable? He's upset that attorneys at some of the nation's most prestigious law firms have chosen to defend those prisoners at Gitmo fortunate enough to get a trial; most, as you know, are denied what is their legal right, and something this administration has converted, like everything else, into a matter of privilege. But, not only is Stimson "dismayed," he is urging retaliation by those high octane corporations upon whom these law firms depend for their bread and butter, and suggesting that their CEO's not do business with any firm that represents a "terrorist." Stimson made these remarks in an interview he did for a Washington D.C. radio station targeting those who work for the federal government.

This is not the first time we've seen bullies run amok in the media, but what makes this bully special is not his bully pulpit, per se, but that he has a law degree, and that his remarks have not drawn severe rebuke, censure, and condemnation from those who sign his paycheck in the Pentagon, as well as from we, the taxpayers. We hear heads of the American Bar Association speak out, prominent professors of law at major universities speak out, but our esteemed attorney-general says only that he has no problem with the way criminals receive representation. How does big brass, at the DOD, respond to his remarks? Anonymously! Talk about profiles in courage! Stimson's bosses at the Department of Defense say only that his comments "do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership," and they do so off the record. (NYT)

Anyone who believes, for a minute, that the head honchos at the Pentagon, or Defense Department, will pursue censure, rebuke, apology, or resignation from Mr. Stimson simply doesn't understand that the entire artifact of American jurisprudence has been deliberately, and consciously, dismantled piece by piece, over the past six years, such that, in order to even be eligible for a trial, a prisoner at Guantanamo has to acknowledge guilt first; so much for the presumption of innocence.

What's more, this Pentagon spokesman is, in a passive aggressive way, attempting to put the squeeze on attorneys who represent Gitmo detainees in much the same way the government has tried to criminalize doctors who perform late term abortions. It would not be stretching the truth to draw an analogy between the efforts at harassing lawyers who represent detainees and attempts to harass doctors who perform abortions, late term or otherwise. The concept is largely the same. If you disagree with the party line, the party's over. And, clearly, in this case, the "bottom line" Stimson claims that the terrorists hit is the fact that major corporations lost profits big time as a result of the World Trade Center bombing, an idea which should be repulsive to all those who remember the 3,000 lives lost due to 9/11, and this Pentagon puppet is now suggesting his own homemade jihad on those law firms who dare to pursue their practice of ensuring detainees receive a proper defense.

Who are these terrorists this senior Pentagon official is so convinced deserve to be deprived of a decent defense? According to a National Journal investigation of 132 men held at Guantanamo, 75 of them were not even accused of taking part in any actions against the United States. Not only are they being held illegally, they're now being convicted illegally by a senior officer of the Pentagon, and one who has a law degree, no less, proving that a little knowledge can be dangerous.

Let's freeze frame, for a moment, and consider the significance of these appalling comments in light of measures taken, over the past few years, to secure information, through the frivolous use of grand jury subpoenas targeting journalists, and essentially denying them an essential tool of their trade: the right to guarantee anonymity and confidentiality to their sources. If Lt. Frank Watada is being court martialed, and faces six years in prison, for "conduct unbecoming an officer" in light of his comments against the war in Iraq, the least Stimson can do is return to the civvy trenches where he belongs.

F.O.I.A.: it's not just for civil libertarians anymore. Now that they're in the minority, thank gawd, it's heartening to see that our conservative friends have discovered the Freedom of Information Act. A conservative talk show host used FOIA to obtain a list of all lawyers and firms representing, in federal court, those held at Gitmo. With any luck, conservatives will soon discover the virtues of the First and Fourth Amendments, too.

Make no mistake, the remarks heard late last week on Federal News Radio were made by a self-described "public figure," a lawyer who had to be reasonably assured that his controversial statements would not meet with dire consequences.
Yet, consider the ignominy of the fact that this Pentagon employee, whose salary you and I pay, gets to urge CEOs of prominent corporations to boycott those law firms that defend prisoners held at the naval base in Cuba.

Here's a better idea: why not encourage heads of Fortune 500 companies to pull the retainers on law firms that represent I. Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld? Clearly lies and torture have compromised the "bottom line" of our national ethics, and are as indefensible as terror.
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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