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Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Tuesday called on lawyers to defend those swept up in the U.S. government’s war on terrorism. Speaking on a panel at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ annual conference in San Diego, Christopher also crossed swords with Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh over releasing the names of detainees, as both drew from their unique experiences in framing a debate over the fate of civil liberties during tests of national security. “The protection of the Constitution so often lies in the willingness of the lawyers to take unpopular stands,” Christopher said. He said he was “baffled” by the government’s resistance to a Virginia federal public defender’s attempt to represent Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American-born Muslim captured in Afghanistan and currently held at a Navy facility in the U.S. In several other high-profile terrorism cases, private law firms have made themselves scarce. San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster, for example, distanced itself from partner James Brosnahan’s representation of John Walker Lindh, a case which ended Monday with a plea bargain. And in a recent order, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema noted that no law firm is willing to replace the federal public defender as advisory counsel to Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of being the 20th Sept. 11 hijacker. “I hope the lawyers in this country will recognize their responsibilities,” said Christopher, now a partner at O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles. Christopher did not say whether he or his firm represents any detainees. The panel was moderated by Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, who steered the all-star panel — which included American Civil Liberties Union President Nadine Strossen, former CIA chief William Webster and University of Southern California law Professor Mary Dudziak — through a hypothetical case involving “Mohammed,” a student at an American university who may or may not have information about one of the Sept. 11 hijackers. When Christopher pierced Sullivan’s hypothetical and put a question directly to Dinh, the audience crackled into its first round of applause. He asked Dinh if, should “Mohammed” be arrested, the government would make his name publicly available. The Bush administration has not released a list of those detained in connection with its Sept. 11 investigation. Christopher recalled a trip to South America he took when working in the State Department under President Carter. “I’ll never forget going to Argentina and seeing the mothers marching in the streets to ask for the names of those being held by the government,” Christopher said, adding that he hopes the United States does not take that road. Dinh, who heads the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, said he would take Christopher’s advice “to heart,” but countered with his own story. Dinh, who came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam, said that in June 1975, he came home to find his father had disappeared. Six months later, his family learned that he had been taken to a “re-education camp.” “I cannot stress to you the feeling of pain, uncertainty and fear that my family went through in that six-month period,” Dinh said. He said all detainees have the right to go to the press if they wish. “These are not incognito detentions,” Dinh said. “The only thing we will not do is provide a road map for the investigation.” Strossen said people are not being given the chance to get their story out. “I hope that everything Mr. Dinh says is true. However, it is inconsistent with what we’ve been hearing from former detainees and their lawyers.” Webster, who advised Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the use of military tribunals, also drew hearty applause from the audience. “I did not believe that [tribunals] would be a substitution for our system of justice for people apprehended within the United States,” Webster said. He drew more applause from the hundreds of judges and lawyers in attendance when he said that judges can step in during times of war, when public demands for the loosening of constitutional protections become great. “You can be elastic,” said Webster, himself a former federal judge, “but you can’t bend with the wind.”

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