Wednesday, April 09, 2008

 

"First" of the Day: an American spies for the Constitution

Lt. Cdr. Matthew Diaz, who served a six-month jail term, was the first American convicted of passing classified information to an American rather than a foreign organization.1 —Pamela Hess reporting in "For Many Spies, It's Not About the Money"

The information that Lt. Cdr. Diaz passed was the names of 551 inmates of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. He was working as an attorney there for the Navy's Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). He printed out a list of names and sent it in a Valentine's Day card to the Center for Constitutional Rights. At the time the Center was trying to file habeas corpus briefs on behalf of the prisoners but was stymied by the government's refusal to release their names. Diaz attempted to rectify the problem. The names were eventually released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

In fact, Lt. Cdr. Diaz accomplished at least two "firsts"—

This past May, Matthew Diaz became the only United States serviceman to be convicted and imprisoned for an act of insubordination directed at the Bush administration’s detention policies. —Tim Golden reporting in "Naming Names at Gitmo"

A sad comment upon the military.

Last week Diaz received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling sponsored by the Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation. He said in his acceptance speech—

[W]ith the Constitution, my legal training, Supreme Court ruling, and my own morality as my compass, it was not long into my tour at Guantánamo before it was clear to me that we were doing things contrary to the law.

As Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky from the Cardozo School of Law put it recently, I was operating in a system that had badly derailed from fundamental norms of justice. It was outrageous that a few unaccountable leaders and their House lawyers could turn everything we stand for in the wrong direction and then lie about it.

Diaz also quoted from Supreme Court Justice Brandeis—

"Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole of the people by its example. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law and invites every man to become a law unto itself. It breeds anarchy. To declare that the end justifies the means would bring terrible retribution."

And so it has come to pass.

In addition to a relatively light 6 month's imprisonment (he was facing 13 years), Diaz was expelled from the Navy and lost his license to practice military law. He is appealing his conviction. In the meantime, according to Joe Conason, he may permanently lose his license to practice law.

All this reminds us that crime doesn't pay—unless you're in government or finance.

Related post
Guantánamo: "The cleanest place we're holding people" (6/30/06)

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Footnote

1Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, would likely have been the "first" if the White House had not refused to release the wiretap documents in its possession. His case was dismissed. [back]

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