guilty until proven innocent …

Was catching up on news, when I came across a story that really troubles me. I was shocked to learn that during a radio interview the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Detainee Affairs, Charles “Cully” Stimson, stated that US Companies should boycott law firms that represent any of the detainees currently held in Guantanamo Bay, to quote him:

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

Stimson’s remarks deserve condemnation. Neal Sonnett the President of the American Judicature Society, a non-partisan group of judges and lawyers described Stimsons words as “shameful and irresponsible” he actually went on to say that what Stimson words were a “blatant attempt to intimidate lawyers and their firms who are rendering important public service in upholding the rule of law and our democratic ideals”.

Stimson is no stranger to controversy, he infamously stated last October that more than 300 prisoners currently detained at Guantanamo Bay could remain there under US Military detention for the rest of their lives. These are men who have never been tried or legally charged with a crime. Stimson discounted international outrage over the detentions as “small little protests around the world” that were inflated by liberal news agencies. It’s a fact that FBI Agents have documented more than two dozen incidents of mistreatment at Guantanamo – in fact in a December court ruling a federal judge in Washington decried the plight of “some of the unfortunate petitioners who have been detained for many years in terrible conditions at Guantanamo Bay”. Whenever I think of Guantanamo Bay I always recall the following words written by Dostoevsky :

“The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”

The US government tells us that these men are guilty but won’t tell us why, and seemingly isnt willing to let these men be tried in civil courts in front of the world, legally. It’s shocking, though not surprising, that the man they have chosen to oversee detainee policy in Guantanamo would want to encourage legal firms’ corporate clients to pressure them not to defend these men. I would hazard a guess that most of us living in the US or the UK understand that legal representation of the accused is one of the core principles of any democracy – that your innocent until proven guilty. Professor Charles Fried of Harvard Law School recently rebuked Stimson:

It is the pride of a nation built on the rule of law that it affords to every man a zealous advocate to defend his rights in court, and of a liberal profession in such a nation that not only is the representation of the dishonorable honorable (and any lawyer is free to represent any person he chooses), but that it is the duty of the profession to make sure that every man has that representation.

The Pentagon has disavowed Stimson’s remarks, and the controversy surrounding his words resulted in him issuing an apology through the Washington Post. Yet the fact that he hasn’t been sacked speaks volumes about this administration and its conduct.

I remember how different the world around me felt immediately after 9/11. I’m sure It affected everyone. As uncertain a time as it was and as frightening nothing frightened me more than the first time I heard the phrase “The Patriot Act“. It was a piece of legislation signed into law by George Bush that expanded the authority of American law enforcement for the stated purpose of fighting terrorism even though it meant erroding a few civil liberties.

At the time it troubled me greatly that commentators and critics of this bill were branded unpatriotic, or branded as helping the terrorists. Six years on it would appear that the administration is still playing the same card, only now its turning its attention to the lawyers and others in the legal profession trying to provide these individuals with a defence they are entitled to under democratic law.

As I write this I find myself recalling and agreeing with the words of another famous writer, Oscar Wilde, when he said that:

patriotism is the virtue of the vicious

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