Topic: Society

Deputy Secretary of Defense Cully Stimson
(January 2007)

With the selection of Deputy Secretary of Defense Cully Stimson as January's second "Liar of the Month," the Scoreboard officially establishes a policy. Whenever a public figure resorts to the "I was possessed" defense to explain an offensive or undiplomatic spontaneous utterance, that figure automatically becomes a David Manning Liar of the Month.

Stimson's use of the defense to extract himself from a professional and public relations embarrassment was somewhat more subtle than previous "possessed" celebrities Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. They both adopted the "I don't know what made me say such a horrible thing, because I've never thought that and don't believe it" approach, implying that any of us, at any time, could suddenly be seized by a malicious spirit that would spew anti-Semitic or racist slurs out of our mouths. Stimson simply wrote a somber letter of apology in which he closed by saying that he "hoped that his record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect" his "core beliefs." But the difference is stylistic, not substantive.

Deputy Secretary Stimson, who is a lawyer, had done a radio interview in which he condemned attorneys from large law firms who were representing Guantanamo Bay detainees pro bono. Stimson told the interviewer, "I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.'s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.'s 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." To help ensure this would happen, Stimson read the names of the firms involved.

The response to his comments was eloquent, furious, and correct, and came from many quarters.

Karen J. Mathis, the president of the American Bar Association, said, "Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law. To impugn those who are doing this critical work -- and doing it on a volunteer basis -- is deeply offensive to members of the legal profession, and we hope to all Americans." Prof. Stephen Gillers, the media's favorite legal ethicist thanks to his penchant for being hard on conservatives and lenient on liberals, was on target in his critique: "This is prejudicial to the administration of justice. It's possible that lawyers willing to undertake what has been long viewed as an admirable chore will decline to do so for fear of antagonizing important clients." Christopher Moore, a lawyer at the New York firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton continued the assault. "We believe in the concept of justice and that every person is entitled to counsel," he told the New York Times. "Any suggestion that our representation was anything other than a pro bono basis is untrue and unprofessional."

The Society of American Law Teachers, representing over 800 members at 165 law schools, delivered an eloquent rebuke in the form of a press release:

Mr. Stimson - who, as a lawyer, should know better - has violated the highest standards of our profession by challenging the lawyers engaged in pro bono representation of Guantanamo detainees and calling on the clients of their law firms to withhold their business from those firms. Lawyers are essential to upholding the rule of law in our country, and the rule of law is precisely what the President claims the United States is defending in the "war on terror." In a just and fair legal system the accused - no matter who they are or what they are accused of doing - must have representation. If Mr. Stimson is speaking for the government, then our leaders have lost sight of this fundamental principle.

For more than five years, hundreds of men have languished in detention, held virtually incommunicado, because they were labeled "enemy combatants" by the government. In direct contravention of our bedrock principles that a person is innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to legal representation, the government denied detainees access to lawyers for many years. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of lawyers willing to stand up against this injustice, many detainees have now been freed because there was insufficient or no evidence to connect them to terrorist activities. But many others still languish without ever having been charged or tried for any crime.

These volunteer lawyers, including those who have successfully brought challenges to the government's policies to the United States Supreme Court, deserve our praise, not threats and blame. They have courageously upheld the highest principles of our laws and Constitution-justice and fairness under the rule of law.

As Thomas Paine wrote of the United States years ago, "This is a government of laws, and not men"-the unchecked power of even the President is not part of democracy or our system of justice. A democracy under the rule of law cannot, should not, and must not threaten or punish lawyers who represent unpopular clients. Although this is especially true for the wrongly detained, it remains important that all should have representation…

That was apparently enough for the Bush administration, which obviously "suggested" to Stimson that he back off his statements and apologize. Political problem solved. But Stimson's apology is a transparent and fantastic lie that is every bit as unbelievable as Mel Gibson's claim that he has no idea why he suddenly started screaming that the Jews were responsible for "every war."

Gibson, at least, could argue that he was drunk. Richards pleaded that he was "upset" when he was possessed with a racist demon that caused him to call an audience member a "nigger" over and over. Stimson, however, was engaged in a friendly radio interview. He can be heard talking calmly and apparently with conviction. Why would he make an extended argument that is inconsistent with his "core beliefs"? Why would anyone? Do devoted Fundamentalists suddenly blurt out that Darwin was right? Can you imagine Maureen Dowd spontaneously telling Tim Russert, "I think President Bush is wonderful!"? Is Ed Koch ever going to shout, "I hate New York!"? Could Paul McCartney some day assert that, "You know, John was the real genius; I only was along for the ride."?

No…because these statements violate their core beliefs, and people don't say things that contradict their core beliefs, even when…especially when…they are drunk, upset, angry or giving calm radio interviews.

Stimson's apology is a lie, and obviously so. What he calls his "core beliefs" are nothing of the kind. They are his official beliefs, the principles that he is required to support officially (that is, give lip service to) as a member of the bar and a high-ranking official in a democracy. True core beliefs are what you reveal when your guard is down, not what you contradict.

Unless, of course, you are "possessed."

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