Wednesday, January 17, 2007

DASD Stimson breaks his vow of silence

Our favorite deputy assistant secretary of defense has broken his vow of silence:
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.
Josh White at the Washington Post wrote about Cully's letter, and he also noted this:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales pointed at the detainees' attorneys himself yesterday, telling the Associated Press that their numerous challenges have delayed trials for their clients at Guantanamo Bay.

In an interview with The Post later yesterday, Gonzales said the remarks were "not intended as criticism of defense attorneys doing their jobs" but were "a statement of reality."

"We had to fight many legal battles to get where we are today," he said.
While there will be many who don't believe Mr. Stimson's comment that his comments don't reflect his core beliefs, don't count me among them. I don't discount that Cully is conservative and to the right-of-center. By the same token, I know his character, or at least I knew his character when we were in school together.

Surfing around this morning, I was reminded of another lawyerly incident that shows, I think, Mr. Stimson's character. In 2004, as a prosecutor, Cully was involved in the case of Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old man paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a childhood accident, who was arrested for possession of "a a marijuana cigarette." He died in the custody of prison authorities after being sentenced to serve 10 days in jail.
During a four-day period, Magbie -- who had a tracheotomy, a pulmonary pacemaker, and required a ventilator to breathe at night and smoked pot to ease the pain of a bone infection -- was allegedly parked overnight in a locked infirmary cell. He could not reach the emergency button to call for help. While in the District's custody for less than a week, he reportedly became dehydrated, contracted pneumonia and died during an acute respiratory crisis.
It was months before that when Attorney Stimson was on the scene.
Three months before he was sentenced, Magbie was called by [Judge] Retchin to a status hearing at which he was expected to plead guilty. Retchin said she wanted truthful answers. To make certain Magbie could be prosecuted for any false statement, she told him she was going to ask the court clerk to place him under oath. "Do you understand, Mr. Magbie?" Retchin asked. "Yes," Magbie said.

"Mr. Magbie," asked Retchin, "are you able to raise your right hand to take an oath?"

"No," he said. Retchin then told Magbie, "Listen to what the court clerk is saying. I understand because of your physical limitations you won't be able to raise your right hand, but you still will be under oath if you agree after she gives you the oath." Magbie, five feet tall, his growth stunted since the accident that left him paralyzed at age 4, seated in the motorized wheelchair that he operated with his chin, swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

After that there was no way Magbie's condition could have slipped Retchin's mind. Three times, Charles Stimson, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the Magbie case, saw fit to give the judge a reminder.

"Before I go forward," Stimson told Retchin in open court, "I would like the record to be clear that Mr. Magbie is in a wheelchair. As I understand it from numerous discussions with [Magbie's lawyer], he's a quadriplegic. And that should be very clear on the record at this point before I go forward and the court makes further inquiry."

Retchin merely thanked Stimson and moved on to accept Magbie's guilty plea.

Stimson kept trying to get it through Retchin's head that Magbie was no threat. During a confidential bench conference, Stimson cited Magbie's condition as a reason why the government did not want to take the case to trial or to send him to jail. Stimson told Retchin that "the jury appeal to a person in a wheelchair . . . is very high because he can't do anything for himself." Moments later, Stimson explained: "We felt that if we took this to trial, the jury would acquit Magbie because he can't really do much."


Stimson informed Retchin at the bench conference, "Mr. Magbie is trying to live sort of the fast life or as fast as he can while being confined to a wheelchair, and he has various nicknames out in the street which aren't relevant to this, but our opinion is that he likes to share his money to feel important but that he's not involved in selling drugs on the street, he's not involved in drug running." Yes, he hung out with some questionable characters and liked having them around, Stimson said, "because it made him feel important."

And, as reported two columns ago, three months before Retchin jailed Magbie, Stimson advised her that Magbie had medical needs that the jail couldn't accommodate.
Personally, that sounds more like the Cully Stimson who came of age along the shores of the Bai Yuka.

So, what's next? Well, I hope that Cully uses this moment-in-the-light to actually bring light to Gitmo, to do more than just ferry media to Gitmo for six-hour stays on the island.

Cully, seize the moment. Make Gitmo truly transparent. Don't let your letter to the Washington Post be the last thing you do in your role as deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. Show, in this current role, what really is at your core beliefs.

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