"Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice" is the motto of the American Bar Association, and among the association's four stated goals, one is to "advance the rule of law." Toward this goal, the ABA is committed to "hold governments accountable under law," "assure meaningful access to justice for all persons," and "preserve the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary."
Given these pledges, it may seem odd that the association's newly appointed president has worked as both a lawyer and lobbyist for some of the world's most repressive regimes, as well as institutions and corporations connected to them. Nonetheless, it is true: Carolyn Lamm, a D.C.-based corporate attorney who was named ABA president in August, has registered as a lobbyist in the past for such authoritarian states as Libya and Zaire. A longtime partner at the prestigious international firm White & Case, Lamm has also had close ties in recent years to entities associated with the tyrannical government of Uzbekistan and its ruling family, working, for example, as the legal counsel of Zeromax, a massive Swiss-registered company widely reported to be controlled by Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Uzbekistan's authoritarian President Islam Karimov.
Lamm declined to comment for this story, and an ABA spokeswoman stated in an email refusing to comment that "she is comfortable that her work with a wide range of clients around the world speaks for itself."
A repressive state often said to be the most "Soviet" of the post-Soviet republics, Uzbekistan is considered one of the world's worst human rights offenders. According to international observers, its legal proceedings are often show trials, and it regularly tortures prisoners and jails those considered political dissidents -- even boiling them alive, according to the U.S. State Department. Islam Karimov, 71, the last head of the republic's Communist Party, has ruled the government since the Soviet collapse led to independence in 1991. The autocratic government rules with the aid of a massive internal-security apparatus. In U.S. NGO Freedom House's current "Freedom in the World" survey, Uzbekistan is given the worst possible score.
Of course, there is nothing inherently improper with a lawyer representing any client, but David Scheffer, professor of law at Northwestern University and director of its Center for International Human Rights, who is also a member of the ABA's human rights advisory council, says attorneys have an obligation not to "distort the truth or manage your representation of the client in such as way that you are overlooking the legitimate interests and complaints of rights-abuse victims."
This is even more true when the attorney in question is tasked with representing the American legal profession as a whole. While not commenting on Lamm specifically, Scheffer noted, "the president of the ABA represents a high level of ethical and professional conduct."
Lamm's ties to Uzbekistan go beyond representing one company. Her firm White & Case was registered to lobby on behalf of the Uzbek government from 1997 through 2005. She also serves as general counsel and vice president of the board of the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce (AUCC), according to its Web site. The AUCC promotes trade and investment ties between the United States and Uzbekistan and lobbies against U.S. sanctions on Karimov's government. Following the 2005 Andijan massacre -- in which hundreds of unarmed protesters were mowed down by Uzbek security forces -- the organization's president, James Cornell, wrote to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to take into account the "special context" of Andijan and "not rush to conclusion or ignore the thorough investigation carried out by the government of Uzbekistan."