In a January interview, Stimpson encouraged American corporations to quit doing business with law firms whose members give pro-bono legal help to Guantanamo detainees. Said Stimpson: "I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms."
Stimpson is also a lawyer. Remember Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) in the 1960s movie To Kill a Mockingbird? Finch defended a destitute Southern black man accused of raping a white woman, during an era when such accusations threatened lynching as likely as jail.
That was a movie, but legal representation of unpopular clients is as highly regarded in real American life, as documented in textbooks Stimpson read in law school (or should have read). So said the President of the American Bar Association and a flood of law professors. Wikipedia notes John Adams (attorney, Declaration of Independence drafter and second American President) defended British soldiers who killed American civilians in the Boston Massacre. He called that act, "one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country."
The Bush administration quickly disavowed Stimpson's remarks. Stimpson first apologized, then resigned on Feb. 2. If this were an isolated incident, we could forget it and move on. The trouble is, it isn't.
American soldiers at Abu Ghraib also made "mistakes." Other "mistakes" were made by U.S. Homeland Security officials, who grabbed Canadian citizen Maher Arar en route through Kennedy Airport, then shipped him to Syria for torture. The Canadian government cleared Arar, apologized and granted him a substantial settlement for its part in the affair. Arar now lives in Canada.
Mean, little people react to discovery of their mistakes with anger, or by ignoring well founded criticism. Contrast Canada's forthright admission of error with the response of American War on Terror officials, who refused to re-examine the Arar case, even for the purpose of removing him from the American no-fly list.
Nationally and worldwide, the list of "mistakes" grows. Italy is now trying American CIA agents who violated Italian law and sovereignty by kidnapping an Egyptian on Italian soil. Until recently, soldiers from that NATO ally fought alongside Americans in Iraq. A similar story is emerging in Germany, another NATO ally, which participates in the U.S.-led Afghanistan campaign. Such is the gratitude anti-terrorism warriors offer America's dwindling circle of international friends.
Nearer to home, a federal jury recently rejected government terrorism charges against Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a Saudi Arabian student at the University of Idaho. The accusations I found online involved building and maintaining web sites for Islamic groups. Jurors more than rejected the government's charges; they laughed them out of court. However, by the time of his release, Al-Hussayen had spent several years in prison. The government tried to limit public exposure of that "mistake" by deporting Al-Hussayen.
Just to be sure, they cut a deal, and Al-Hussayen gave up his right to appeal deportation as the government dropped remaining immigration charges.
Search Google for Ryan G. Anderson, a former Bellingham resident and Washington National Guardsmen serving life in prison for treason. Anderson is a 28 year old, native born, (somewhat scatter brained), white American, who claims recent conversion from Lutheranism to Islam. "Real" Muslims in Bellingham avoided him as a suspected government informer. My research suggests his treasonous crimes were confined to Internet chat room conversations, notably with an anti-terrorism vigilante from Montana and FBI agents to whom she reported.
I call Anderson's grossly excessive court martial sentence another government "mistake." The Army should have discharged the confused kid, perhaps dishonorably, and sent him home to grow up.
In post-9/11 America, "police" has become a complicated term, now including new categories of guards, investigators and electronic records snoops. Some we see at airports and border crossings. Others we only hear about in the media, frequently when they make "mistakes." America's domestic "police" now include military personnel and assets. Though not Constitutionally prohibited, their involvement further erodes a longstanding American tradition, embodied in the post-Civil War Posse Comitatus Act that kept the military and the police separate. But that tradition is dead: For better or worse, the military is now part of the police, watching me, watching you.
The anti-terrorism warriors believe they should watch us, but we shouldn't watch them. Nonsense! Nothing is more important to preserving our constitutional democracy than citizens holding bureaucrats accountable. History's painful lesson is that police (and military) require more, not less, public scrutiny than other bureaucrats.
Unless you have lived in a closet these past five years, you likely have your own list of War on Terror "mistakes." Put learning, talking and writing about them on your good-citizenship to-do-list.
Robert Stokes is a retired University of Washington professor who lives in Spokane. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.