Castigating Cully

Last week I decried a senior Pentagon official’s attack on lawyers providing pro bono representation to Guantánamo detainees. I suggested that villifying the partners of some of the largest firms in the country was probably not the wisest political move, and was likely to backfire.

As it turns out, it appears I was right. See the editorial in this week’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly:

…Headlines in print and online were unanimous: “Why Cully Stimson Is Wrong.” “The rightwing assault on the legal system.” “Cully Stimson Should Pick Up His Medal of Freedom and Go Home.” “Law deans respond to unethical Bush lawyer.”

And perhaps the most eloquent rebuke of all came from Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried. In an op-ed that ran in the Wall Street Journal, Fried declared that “Stimson showed ignorance and malice in deploring the pro bono representation of Guantanamo detainees by lawyers in some of the nation’s leading law firms.”

The former Supreme Judicial Court justice continued: “It is no surprise that firms … on Mr. Stimson’s hit list are among the most sought-after by law school graduates, and retain the loyalty and enthusiasm of their partners. They offer their lawyers the profession at its best, and help assure that the rule of law is not just a slogan but a satisfying way of life.”

…What could have been a disaster for the bar turned into an all-out celebration of what lawyers do.


  1. Steve Laniel Jan 28

    It’s one thing to win among élites; it’s another to win in the court of public opinion. And I’m fairly certain that if you polled Americans to ask whether they thought suspected terrorists should have legal representation, a great many would say no. There’s a deep belief in this country that “criminals get off too easy.” Even though everyone reading this blog understands the fallacy in that, a lot of Americans don’t. I think Stimson was just tapping into a fairly easy set of biases.

  2. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    Maybe. I still think winning among élites — and provoking both denials (from others in the administration) and an apology (from Cully) suggests that the attack was more a failure than a success. At the least, it doesn’t seem to have had its intended effect of provoking complaints from paying clients to the lawyers who are doing the pro bono work.

  3. Dave On Fire Jan 28

    I don’t think this represents a victory among the elite so much as a victim among the lawyers’ professional peers, and surely that’s where it’s most important.

    To continue to condemn them now would be to condemn the whole legal profession (or at least, the community of those who profess it), which isn’t anywhere near as politically viable as condemning terrorist sympathizers.

    Hence the apology.

  4. agerard Jan 29

    What’s with the evil smily face that appears all over this post and a few others, but only when viewing them on the front page. This guy:

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