David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

The Pentagon is disavowing the comments made by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Stimson, saying they don't represent the views of the Department of Defense or the thinking of its leadership.

I've been digging a little deeper into the incendiary comments made in a radio interview this week by Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, who suggested that corporations should consider boycotting law firms representing the detainees at Guantanamo. Some of those law firms are among the nation's largest and most respected firms.

In an earlier post I noted the odd convergence of events. On Thursday, Stimson called out defense attorneys during an interview on Federal News radio. On Friday, an unnamed senior administration official showed up in a WSJ op-ed piece written by Robert Pollock essentially saying the same thing about a boycott that Stimson had said the day before. And all of this was apparently prompted, if that's the right word, by a FOIA request from conservative talk radio host Monica Crowley for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing detainees.

In response, I heard from TPM Reader WS, who works for a St. Louis television station and says he was invited by the Department of Defense to fly down to Gitmo last month for a tour of the detainee facilities. In a phone interview, WS told me that Stimson, Pollock and representatives of Federal News radio were all with him on the trip to Gitmo. Also in attendance were a Department of Defense lawyer and a Marine Corps press flack. While Crowley has visited Gitmo recently, according to her website, she was not on this particular trip, according to WS.

The group flew to Gitmo from Washington, D.C., on December 20, aboard a government-owned Gulfstream jet, according to WS. The tour lasted 6-7 hours, he said, and the group returned the same day. No cameras or other recording equipment was allowed. Stimson served essentially as a tour guide for the media representatives, on a trip intended to emphasize that the detainees are well-treated and well-cared for. Stimson told WS that he was trying to schedule at least one similar media tour to Gitmo each month.

WS says they were shown detainees, coming within 20 feet of detainees who were in a fenced exercise area, and that they appeared to be in good condition. Stimson claimed that the detainees received better treatment than if they were treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and that the new prison facilities at Gitmo were modeled after prisons in Michigan and Indiana, according to WS. Stimson touted the presence of an office of the International Red Cross on-site, WS says.

Stimson also complained that detainees were taking advantage of visits by their lawyers to convey information about their treatment at Gitmo with the intention of making Gitmo look bad, but WS said Stimson made no other mention of detainee lawyers and did not make any mention of a boycott.

Incidentally, WS has no idea why he in particular was invited on the trip, but he couldn't resist the chance to go to Cuba. He has no plans to air an account of his trip.

Nothing like a little coordination between the Pentagon and the right wing noise machine.

The suggestion by Charles D. Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, that corporations should consider boycotting law firms who are doing pro bono work representing detainees at Gitmo, came after he received a FOIA request from conservative radio host and former Nixon groupie Monica Crowley seeking a list of all the lawyers and law firms representing detainees.

Later, during a radio interview (not with Crowley), Stimson--who was a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., specializing in felony domestic violence and child abuse cases before going to the Pentagon to oversee the detainee program--read from the list produced to Crowley and indicated that he expected the names of the lawyers and law firms to be a big story in coming days:

“I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.”

For her part, Crowley made a recent trip to Guantanamo and on her radio show is marking the fifth anniversary of the detainee facility there: "We're there, we're fair, and we're not going anywhere!"

As the New York Times noted, the fifth anniversary of the Gitmo prison was also the peg for a Robert Pollock op-ed in Friday's Wall Street Journal which cited the list and attributed this quote to an unnamed “senior U.S. official": “Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.”

A series of completely unconnected random events, I'm sure.


The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

The comments by Charles D. Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, produced an instant torrent of anger from lawyers, legal ethics specialists and bar association officials, who said Friday that his comments were repellent and displayed an ignorance of the duties of lawyers to represent people in legal trouble.

Stimson is himself a lawyer, sad to say. Here's the money quote:

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.

The Administration has already done virtually everything possible to deny detainees any hope of justice. Encouraging boycotts of the law firms representing detainees is an effort to close off any last chance that the detainees will be treated in accordance with Anglo-American legal standards.

Each of us will mark our own low point of the Bush presidency. This is on my short list.

If you haven't seen it already, check out Murray Waas' preview of the upcoming trial of Scooter Libby, which will likely open a window on the Imperial Vice Presidency.

The top FBI official for San Diego, on the firing of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam: "I guarantee politics is involved."

It's just stunning to have a FBI agent blast the Department of Justice and the White House like this.

Lam prosecuted the Duke Cunningham case and is in charge of other high-profile public corruption cases involving Republicans.

President Bush has seen the Saddam execution video (not clear which one) and said today that it ranks just behind Abu Ghraib as the most damaging mistakes the U.S. has made in Iraq, reports NBC's Brian Williams:

Upon exiting the West Wing, I phoned one particular detail into MSNBC: Toward the end I asked the President if he'd seen the Saddam Hussein execution video. He said he had, and when I asked where it "ranked" (among the mistakes of the war) he indicated it was just below Abu Ghraib in terms of damage -- meaning slightly less damaging. The President also noted the damage done at Haditha.

The President's comments came in a not-for-quotation background briefing with select reporters in advance of tonight's primetime address on Iraq.

OK, there's more than a little irony in Rep. Nick Lampson, the Texas Democrat who holds Tom Delay's old seat, supporting one of Delay's most expensive pet projects:

Texas congressmen Nick Lampson (D-Stafford) announced Saturday the finalization and signing of a 10-year, $375 million U.S. Department of Energy research and development contract that will be managed in Sugar Land.

The Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a non-profit consortium of research institutions and energy companies, will manage the project from its Sugar Land headquarters. RPSEA is expected to award research contracts to universities, research institutions, national laboratories and industry partners, Lampson said at a press conference at offices RPSEA shares with the Texas Energy Center.

This contract was a particularly controversial part of the 2005 energy bill. Between RPSEA and the Texas Energy Center, there was Delay-connected muck at every turn. Last year the President went so far as to single this project out in calling for cutting tax breaks and funding for the oil and gas industry (although he had already signed the bill containing those very same tax breaks and funding--but that's another story).

So why didn't Congress heed the President's call to ax this program last year? Apparently then-candidate Lampson intervened:

Melanie Kenderdine, vice president of the Gas Technology Institute and a RPSEA board member, said Lampson was instrumental in rescuing the DOE program in May 2006, when [Rep. Ed] Markey [D-MA] offered an amendment in Congress to kill the project.

She said Lampson, who was campaigning for the seat he ultimately won in CD-22, took time out to “educate his past and future colleagues” in the House about the benefits that would accrue from the project RPSEA now will manage.

“When I found out there were no limits to what could be done with this research money, it was easy for me to contact Markey…,” Lampson said. “I was able to get them to understand it was not just an oil subsidy . . ."

So Democrats were actually persuaded to support Tom Delay's boondoggle by Delay's Democratic successor. That's pretty rich.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) announced today on Meet the Press that he intends to run for President again. But it was this portion of his appearance, on the subject of Iraq and the "surge," which caught my attention:

MR. RUSSERT: You said the other day that this is President Bush’s war, and there’s...

SEN. BIDEN: It is.

MR. RUSSERT: ...there’s really little Democrats can do. Why not cut off funding for the war?

SEN. BIDEN: I’ve been there, Tim. You can’t do it.


SEN. BIDEN: You can’t do it. It’s—what—because it made sense in the Constitution when you said you could cut off funding when you had no standing army. We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, “You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece and”—he—able—he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.

MR. RUSSERT: Why not have legislation then that would cap the number of troops in Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: Because it’s very difficult to—it’s constitutionally questionable whether or not you can do that. I think it is unconstitutional to say, “We’re going to tell you you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.” When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces, when you authorize them, to be able to use the forces.

Biden here is his reliably muddle-headed self. Congress can declare war (or, in this case, resolve to authorize the use of force) but not reverse itself later? Congress cannot redline certain defense expenditures?

Giving Biden the benefit of the doubt, what I think he is trying to say is that it would be utterly unproductive for Democrats in Congress to get bogged down in the tactical minutia of our Iraq policy. I completely agree. To surge or not to surge is really not the issue. But it would be nice to see a Democratic presidential contender better able to articulate that notion.

Biden told Russert:

I am running for president. I’m going to be Joe Biden, and I’m going to try to be the best Biden I can be. If I can, I got a shot. If I can’t, I lose.

Is this the best Biden he can be?

The Chicago Tribune has obtained a copy of a 6,300-word, handwritten letter by radical Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr describing his abduction in Italy and alleged rendition to Egypt, which has resulted in charges against more than two dozen American CIA operatives and the former chief of Italian intelligence.