Statement on the Apology of Charles D. Stimson for His Remarks Against Lawyers Representing Detainees Held at Guantanamo Bay
Human Rights First welcomes the apology of Charles D. Stimson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, for his comments that had criticized the role of lawyers who represent detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. Representing people from all walks of life, including the indigent, the criminal and even a suspected enemy is part of a proud tradition of serving the law in the United States, dating back to John Adams’s defense of British soldiers who took part in the Boston Massacre.
Lawyers play a critical role in protecting human rights. An independent legal profession is essential to upholding fundamental values of society, including the liberty and security of all of its members, a principle both the U.S. and international legal systems recognize. In 2004, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of detainees to challenge their detention in court, for which legal representation is vital. The U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that everyone is entitled to a lawyer to protect his or her rights, and that governments shall ensure lawyers can perform their professional duties without intimidation, harassment, or threat of sanctions.
We urge Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to affirm publicly the essential role that lawyers have played and are continuing to play to ensure that U.S. laws and procedures governing detainee interrogation and detention meet Constitutional and international human rights obligations.
Indeed, while Attorney General Gonzales continues to fault detainee lawyers for prolonging resolution of the handful of cases of people actually charged with crimes at Guantanamo, the reality is that these legal challenges (raised by the lawyers Mr. Stimson impugned) have had a positive impact on U.S. detainee policy. By challenging the detention and trial systems at Guantanamo before impartial courts, the detainee lawyers have forced greater scrutiny by the Administration of the treatment of detainees and the processes by which their status is evaluated, and this has led to improvements in U.S. policy which otherwise might never have been adopted. The Administration should acknowledge that fact.