A Pentagon official who criticized American law firms for defending detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay apologized in a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Charles “Cully” Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, said last week in a Washington radio interview he found it “shocking” that major U.S. law firms would agree to represent Guantanamo detainees pro bono.

He suggested they would suffer financially when corporate clients learned of their involvement in Guantanamo cases.

“Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not,” Stimson wrote in response to the furor over his remarks.

“I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs,” he wrote.

Stimson, himself a lawyer, also said he supports pro bono work and believes the legal system works best when both sides have competent legal counsel.

The apology followed condemnation in the legal community and a call on Tuesday for his ouster.

Four law organizations said in a letter to President Bush that Stimson should be fired for remarks that were aimed at “chilling the willingness” of lawyers to represent Guantanamo detainees.

“The threats by Mr. Stimson are not subtle. They imply these pro bono lawyers are terrorists,” read the letter signed by the American Association of Jurists, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild and the Society of American Law Teachers.

The Pentagon had already disavowed Stimson’s comments, but the legal groups said that was not enough.

“Mr. Stimson should be publicly admonished and relieved of his duties for making these allegations and threats,” the organizations wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union last week condemned what it called an administration attack on lawyers representing the detainees.

Neal Sonnett, president of the American Judicature Society, said Stimson’s remarks were a “blatant attempt to intimidate lawyers and their firms.”

About 50 U.S. federal public defenders are also representing Guantanamo detainees, pro bono, in habeas corpus petitions.

About 395 prisoners remain at the Guantanamo prison camp, suspected of al Qaeda and Taliban links.

More than 770 captives have been held at the facility, which opened five years ago, soon after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States. Only 10 detainees have charged with crimes.

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

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