A strange three-week controversy over the remarks of the Pentagon's top official responsible for overseeing the detainees at Guantanamo Bay has ended with his resignation, the Pentagon revealed today. The saga began when he provoked an outcry in the legal community by publicly questioning the decisions of U.S. law firms to defend some of the detainees.
On Jan. 11, the official, Charles "Cully" Stimson, gave an interview to a Washington, D.C., radio station in his capacity as the Defense Department's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Detainee Affairs. "It's shocking," he said, to find out which law firms are representing detainees.
After naming 13 of them, including some of the nation's largest and most prominent, he said "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."
As it happened, several of those big companies did just the opposite, rallying to the support of the law firms. One was GE, the parent company of NBC, which said it had no intention of "discriminating against law firms that represent us on the basis of the pro bono, charitable, or public service that the lawyers in those firms choose to engage in."
Stimson's remarks also prodded a former top justice department official in the Bush administration, Ted Olson, to join with a liberal law professor in co-writing an article for Legal Times critical of Stimson's remarks. The ethos of the legal profession, they said, "is built on the idea that lawyers will represent both the popular and the unpopular, so that everyone has access to justice."
Stimson issued an apology, but the damage had already been done. The San Francisco Bar Association sought an ethics investigation. Law professors condemned his comments, and the Bush administration distanced itself from his remarks.