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Remarks about Gitmo lawyers should fall flat

No backlash reported from local firms

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A senior Pentagon official who recently lashed out in a radio broadcast against law firms representing Guantanamo Bay detainees is unlikely to achieve the intended damage, predicts Emmet Bondurant, one of Georgia's top trial attorneys who also has a client imprisoned in Cuba.

On Jan. 11, during an on-air interview with a Washington, D.C. radio station, Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, caused a firestorm of controversy by suggesting that corporations may want to cut ties to major law firms that represent Cuban detainees.

In Atlanta, lawyers with Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan represent seven Guantanamo detainees (see CL's Nov. 1, 2006, cover story, "Freedom detained") and Alston & Bird has 74 attorneys working for free to challenge the detention of accused terrorists who have been detained in Cuba without trials or hearings for as long as five years. Neither firm has reported any backlash from their corporate clients.

Bodurant says he believes most executives and corporate lawyers will be offended at Stimson's remarks, which he says run counter to the basic American legal principle of equal representation, even for unpopular or unsavory clients.

"Thinking people with a modest knowledge of the Constitution and a sense of fair play will ignore these comments," he says. "There is no reasonable lawyer or law teacher who would defend those remarks."

A few days after the broadcast, Stimson offered something of an apology and the Pentagon quickly disavowed his remarks, but Bondurant believes that's just a cover for President Bush's ongoing war on constitutional rights.

"It's absurd to think a minion in this administration would make a statement like that without prior approval," he says.

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