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The Pentagon’s thrown a blanket over Cully Stimson. It’s even possible that his now-infamous remarks concerning Guant�namo Bay detainees and their high-powered legal counsel will be the last time he is allowed to speak publicly for the government. Washington has chewed up officials for less. Even his subsequent apology was scripted. (It was in a letter to The Washington Post.) A Defense Department spokesman says now that Stimson is “not available,” which, of course, brings to mind images of Stimson being a brand-new resident of the prison in Cuba he helps oversee. Such radio silence leaves Stimson, heretofore a relatively anonymous member of the government bureaucracy, largely defined by some ill-considered words, ones that made him sound like some tone-deaf true believer whose idea of sport is waterboarding. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t the whole picture. While undoubtedly a loyal administration wonk, Stimson isn’t another Dr. Strangelovian character like Gen. Jack D. Ripper; he’s a former Navy judge advocate general and ex-prosecutor in the District who made his mark primarily in domestic-violence cases. He’s a prep-school-educated straight arrow who studied at Oxford and has woven lines from Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost” into his court arguments. He’s taught trial advocacy at George Mason University and adopted two children. All of which made his comments during a radio interview earlier this month that urged corporate America to dump as counsel the large law firms that rep the 400 or so accused terrorists at Guant�namo that much the stranger. “Quite frankly, he knows better,” says Roscoe Howard Jr., the former U.S. attorney in the District who hired Stimson as a prosecutor. Howard and Stimson went to the same school, Culver Military Academy in northern Indiana. (George Steinbrenner is also an alum.) Howard jokes that once the radio interview was over, Stimson must have said to himself, “Damn, did I just say that out loud?” “It was so unlike the Cully Stimson I know,” Howard says. Since then, Stimson has been almost universally savaged. One of the more unsettling aspects of the blogosphere is the capacity it offers for a ready-quick lynch mob. Google Stimson’s name and you’ll instantly find that he’s been called every name in the virtual book, printable and not, on blog after blog. And he’ll live forever that way on the Web unless he can manage to figure out a way to wipe his history and replace it with a more benign identity. Phil Stinson, a friend who has known Cully Stimson for more than 25 years, since the two attended Saint James School, an Episcopal boarding school in rural Maryland, says he’s spoken to Stimson several times since the flap. “I know he was devastated that his comments caused a stir — from all corners,” Stinson says. “His professional ethics have never been questioned before, and I know that he is hopeful that his good name will be restored and allow him to rise above his recent missteps.” But this wasn’t Stimson’s first brush with controversy. He played a role in one of the more notorious prisoner incidents in the District in recent memory. Stimson was the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to prosecute Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic sentenced to 10 days in D.C. Jail in 2004 for marijuana possession. Magbie died in jail after five days of breathing problems related to his condition. Stimson didn’t want him there. He and Magbie’s lawyer, Boniface Cobbina, negotiated a plea deal that would keep Magbie out of jail. But Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin wouldn’t accept Stimson’s recommendation. Stimson went as far as making sure the details of Magbie’s condition were in the court record. He told Retchin that he made the plea deal because Magbie had to be catheterized every four to six hours. He warned her that D.C. Jail couldn’t accommodate Magbie, who also used a ventilator to sleep at night. And if the case went to trial, he believed, jurors would likely acquit Magbie because they wouldn’t want to send him to jail. (Whether Retchin was informed of the fact that the jail couldn’t handle a quadriplegic like Magbie remains in dispute. But the District is about to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Magbie’s mother, according to one of her attorneys. The overall settlement will be close to $5 million.) Cobbina calls Stimson’s actions in the Magbie case exemplary. “Together, we crafted something that we thought would serve Mr. Magbie’s best interests,” he says. It wasn’t long after Magbie’s death that Stimson jumped to the Pentagon, where he became deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs and dealt with an entirely different kind of prison and inmate. And where he began giving tours of the facility to the international news media. He perhaps foresaw his own undoing when he recently told a college alumni magazine that in his new job, “I have to choose my words carefully because I am a public figure on a very, very controversial topic.” Cobbina says he was surprised by Stimson’s Guant�namo comments. But he says he understands. “He has a different interest, a different client. That’s as much as I can say about it,” he says. “Sometimes,” Cobbina adds, “you have to be careful what job you ask for.”
James Oliphant is editor in chief of Legal Times .

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