Thursday, March 08, 2007


Willing Accomplices

Debra Burlingame writes a startling and anger-provoking column in the Opinion Journal.

Burlingame peals away layers of artifice and subterfuge in revealing how stunningly successful has been a legal and public relations campaign to confront US terrorist detentions at Guantanamo.

And who are the architects of this campaign? One high priced and highly compensated law firm Shearman and Sterling, funded in large part by the Kuwaiti Government. Contrary to the media image of pro bono attorneys bravely defending innocent victims of Government counter-terrorism excess, these lawyers representing Gitmo detainees are in it for the fees, as lawyers and lobbyists:

It turns out that Shearman & Sterling, a 1,000-lawyer firm with offices in 19 cities all over the world, has substantial business dealings on six continents. Indeed, Shearman's client care for Middle Eastern matters has established a new industry standard: The firm's Abu Dhabi office states that it has pioneered the concept of "Shariah-compliant" financing. In Kuwait, the firm has represented the government on a wide variety of matters involving billions of dollars worth of assets. So the party underwriting the litigation on behalf of the Kuwaiti 12--from which all of the detainees have benefited--is one of Shearman & Sterling's most lucrative OPEC accounts.

Shearman & Sterling did far more than just write legal briefs and shuttle down to Gitmo to conduct interviews about alleged torture for the BBC. In addition to its legal services, the firm registered as an agent of a foreign principal under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA) as well as the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) to press the Kuwaiti detainees' cause on Capitol Hill. Shearman reported $749,980 in lobbying fees under FARA for one six-month period in 2005 and another $200,000 under the LDA over a one-year period between 2005 and 2006. Those are the precise time periods when Congress was engaged in intense debates over the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act, legislation which Shearman & Sterling and its Kuwaiti paymasters hoped would pave the way for shutting down Guantanamo permanently and setting their clients free.

You could speculate about what those lobbying dollars were meant to influence. You could guess it might have something to do with the media hysteria that erupted over Guantanamo. You could prepare a chronology of statements on Gitmo by opposition members of Congress, and match it against these lobbying efforts. Or, to save time, you can just read Burlingame’s account for an eye opener. She’s done a great job tying up and making coherent whole of an outrageous tale of outright fabrication, media manipulation, and grossly unethical behavior on the part of sworn officers of the court.

For example, Burlingame recounts that the Shearman and Sterling attorney, Tom Wilner, immediately hired public relations pro Richard Levick to remake the public perceptions of Gitmo detainees:

In numerous published articles and interviews, Mr. Levick has laid out the essence of the entire Kuwaiti PR campaign. The strategy sought to accomplish two things: put a sympathetic "human face" on the detainees and convince the public that it had a stake in their plight. In other words, the militant Islamists who traveled to Afghanistan to become a part of al Qaeda's jihad on America had to be reinvented as innocent charity workers swept up in the war after 9/11. The committed Islamist who admitted firing an AK-47 in a Taliban training camp became a "teacher on vacation" who went to Afghanistan in 2001 "to help refugees." The member of an Islamist street gang who opened three al-Wafa offices with Suliman Abu Ghaith (Osama Bin Laden's chief spokesman) to raise al Qaeda funds became a charity worker whose eight children were left destitute in his absence. All 12 Kuwaitis became the innocent victims of "bounty hunters."

A Montreal-based marketing firm was hired to create the families' full-service Web site which fed propaganda--unsourced, unrebutted and uninvestigated by the media--aimed at the media all over the world. Creating what Mr. Levick calls a "war of pictures," the site is replete with images meant to appeal to Americans: smiling Kuwaiti families wearing T-shirts and baseball caps, cute children passing out yellow ribbons.

After the Rasul decision, the PR momentum picked up speed and the Supreme Court became, in Mr. Levick's words, their "main weapon," a "cudgel" that forced more attention in what he calls the traditional "liberal" press. Dozens of op-eds by Mr. Wilner and the family group leader (described as a U.S.-trained former Kuwaiti Air Force pilot who cherishes the memory of drinking Coca Cola) were aimed at the public and Congress.

Mr. Levick maintains that a year and a half after they began the campaign, their PR outreach produced literally thousands of news placements and that, eventually, a majority of the top 100 newspapers were editorializing on the detainees' behalf. Convinced that judges can be influenced by aggressive PR campaigns, Mr. Levick points to rulings in the detainee cases which openly cite news stories that resulted from his team's media outreach.

The Kuwaiti 12 case is a primer on the anatomy of a guerilla PR offensive, packaged and sold to the public as a fight for the "rule of law" and "America's core principles." Begin with flimsy information, generate stories that are spun from uncorroborated double or triple hearsay uttered by interested parties that are hard to confirm from halfway around the world. Feed the phonied-up stories to friendly media who write credulous reports and emotional human interest features, post them on a Web site where they will then be read and used as sources by other lazy (or busy) media from all over the world. In short, create one giant echo chamber.

We’ve seen highly effective PR campaigns like this before, most recently executed by Hezbollah and friends of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And when I say, of this kind, I decidedly mean of the dishonest, untruthful, and calculatingly manipulative variety.

Once upon a time Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Right Watch could be counted on to focus their efforts on actual and gross violations of International Law, or even simple human decency. I even remember contributing to AI, and proudly displaying a decal on my car, when AI was fighting to save the lives of Jewish and other dissidents in the old USSR, or reporting on paramilitary regime or radical communist death squads in South and Central America. They were even handed, and sought to alert the world to obvious and odious abuses.

Somewhere along the way, these lonely voices must have found themselves among those who may have shouted the same slogans, but clearly in hindsight had other motivations and intents. Maybe too, it was an as-portrayed mutual loathing of their political opponents that convinced these formerly well-intended do-gooders to conclude the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Maybe they just got old and tired and overrun with poorly educated Liberal Arts majors who view all of history through the discolored lenses of multiculturalism and diversity pablum theologies. Whatever the case, they served well the interests of S&S’s Kuwaiti clients.

It should surprise only legal neophytes that the legal profession a long time ago dispensed with what they must view as quaint taboos against knowingly perpetrating falsehood and fraud in the exercise of their profession. It might surprise more than a few to know there are those who would do so, in defending known terrorists against those risking their very lives trying to fight against them. And yet, this immoral and unethical behavior on the part of some members of the legal profession is taken for granted by world class terror organizations. They advise their followers to make every effort to gain the support of such as these, in turning the very foundations, principles, and tools of our democracies against us, as has been well documented in Al Qaeda training manuals and intercepted communiqu├ęs. They well know they have willing and knowing accomplices in the West.

Why should we care? Aren’t those captured on the non-traditional battlespaces of the Terror Wars entitled to a little due process, beyond that afforded with precise efficiency by the military forces that apprehend them? Burlingame has the answer:

Everything Mr. Levick did was in partnership with Tom Wilner and the law firm of Sherman & Sterling. It was their joint litigation-PR plan, with the Guantanamo lawsuits helping the PR messaging and the PR messaging helping the lawsuits. All of this may be legal, but it is hardly ethical.

Shearman & Sterling lawyers aren't hucksters crassly promoting a cheap product; they are sworn officers of the court volunteering to represent alien enemy combatants in a time of war, interjecting themselves in cases that affect how American soldiers on the battlefield do their job. It is one thing to take these cases in order to achieve the proper balance between due process concerns and unprecedented national security issues. It is another to hire PR and marketing consultants to create image makeovers for suspected al Qaeda financiers, foot soldiers, weapons trainers and bomb makers, all of which is financed by millions of dollars from a foreign country enmeshed in the anti-American, anti-Israel elements of Middle East politics.

Read the whole thing. Lord knows, you won’t read it anywhere else in the mainstream media (MSM).

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