When the shameful history of the Guantanamo detention centre is finally written, one of the few reassuring chapters will be the way lawyers from many US law firms have given pro-bono representation to prisoners who have been denied their Geneva Convention rights. It is especially outrageous that the Pentagon official responsible for detainees has maligned these lawyers and encouraged corporations to take their legal business away from their firms. In an interview last Thursday, deputy assistant secretary of defence Cully Stimson said he found it “shocking” that lawyers from prestigious firms were representing Guantanamo detainees.

Stimson’s remarks came just as critics of US detention policies were noting the fifth anniversary of the use of Guantanamo as a centre for indefinite imprisonment of persons in Afghanistan, or other fronts in the war on terrorism. The administration should close Guantanamo and try any detainees that it believes responsible for acts of terror or war crimes in US courts. Congress’s new Democratic majorities should repeal the law passed last year that denies detainees their habeas corpus right to challenge their detention. That, like the right to counsel, is another mainstay of the American legal system that must not be a victim of the war on terror.