Thursday, November 01, 2007

More on Matt Diaz

Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice (recently nominated as one of the best legal blogs in the 2007 Weblog Awards) wrote a post last week in response to my posts about the plight of Matt Diaz, the Navy lawyer who secretly sent the names of all Guantanamo Bay detainees to one of the lead plaintiff's lawyers who was suing to have the names released.

As Greenfield observes:

I would very much like to write...that Diaz is an American hero for having bucked the military, given life to the Supreme Court's Rasul decision, and fought a government that he believed was violating the law. I would like to, but I can't...

I don't doubt Diaz's claim that there was no way up the chain of command that would have altered the government's decision to stonewall the defense lawyers seeking information about the Gitmo detainees. He had no lawful means to act to achieve the outcome he sought. Aside from his covert (and ill-conceived) plan to send the CCR lawyer a Valentines card, he was stuck. Frustration, coupled with a personal sense of morality, drove him to this act.

But Matthew Diaz was not like some corporate whistleblower. He ... was a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy... He picked his side, and upon putting on the uniform, undertook certain bedrock obligations that are larger than his personal vision of right and wrong at any given moment.


The military cannot function without discipline and following orders. We are not talking about orders to commit a crime or an atrocity. We are talking about orders that, for better or worse, reflect a position being argued at the highest levels of government, and challenged in the courts of the nation...

If Matthew Diaz wore anything other than a uniform, I would not hesitate to applaud his act of conscience. But once he chose Navy dress whites, the obligation that goes with the uniform trumps his right to act upon personal choices. He knew that. He chose the uniform. He violated his obligation. As wrong as our government can be, Matthew Diaz was more wrong."

I have to admit, Greenfield has a point. The fact that the information was released shortly thereafter, via a FOIA request, not only mitigates the punishment that Diaz received, it also demonstrates that his actions weren't the last resort. He may, from his position in Gitmo, viewed his actions this way, but later developments proved that the secret release wasn't necessary as the judge later ordered it anyway. In fact, I left the following comment at Greenfield's blog:

Before I found your post I asked one of my favorite, most trusted former colleagues at the public defenders office about Diaz's situation and, to my surprise, she (perhaps because she is married to a Marine and has spent a lot of time working military bases) made the same points you did.

Then, after I found your post, I had to reflect on my own frequent criticisms of people who cavalierly advise that violating the law isn't a problem if you're one of the "good guys." Giuliani said something similar to this today when he described the definition of torture "depend[ing] on who's doing it."

So I probably went a little too far arguing that Diaz is a like a modern day Rosa Parks. After all, she wasn't wearing a uniform and the fact that the information he revealed was ultimately released pursuant to a judge's order illustrates that Diaz's actions weren't a last resort more than it shows "no harm, no foul" as I previously argued.

I wonder though if he didn't see his acts as a last resort when he sealed the Valentine, thinking about his dad sold down the river by a bad lawyer and having to witness things like waterboarding and to hear the Navy argue things that the names didn't need to be released because the detainees had other ways to obtain lawyers, [WTF? They were in Gitmo!] while at the same time hearing his own government argue that these men, some as young as 13, weren't entitled to lawyers while they were being deliberately held out of U.S. territory in the hopes that geography would keep their cases out of the reach of U.S. Courts.

Diaz faced up to 20 years but he ended up getting 6 months to think about his mistakes. I know that's what they were, and guess that he does too, but I feel a little like an Monday morning quarterback describing them that way, here, from the safety of my new home.

My defense of him and offers to help amount to an argument for sentencing, I guess, rather than an argument about guilt. Perhaps when others, like the telecom execs and a certain ex-attorney general, are held accountable for their actions around this same time will Diaz's six months in the brig sit a little better with me.

Reminds me of the sarcastic quote about the law, in its "majestic equality" forbidding the stealing of bread and sleeping under bridges.

But you make a good point about the military being necessarily based on following lawful orders and the law being the law. I just hope as a nation that we're still up to making it apply to Alberto or George with the same energy that we want applied to Mr. Diaz.

As much as I agree with Greenfield's point that the law is the law, and the military is rule-based by necessity, I feel like I need to listen to Diaz before I judge the decisions he made.

So I'll ask him to respond to these points. I know he has a lot of his plate right now, and responding to a blog post probably ranks a little lower than finding a job to feed his family. Still, maybe he'll enlighten us all about what he was going through and what he was witnessing at the time. Hopefully he'll write a book someday, but I'm sure he has other priorities right now.

Update: Here's a story about a bizarre email from Col. Boylan in Iraq that sheds some light on something that might have been on Diaz's mind at the time: the fact that the top brass seems more concerned with how the war is described in the media than in how it's unfolding on the ground.

It will be interesting to see where this goes, since it involves Gen. Petreaus' spokesman claiming that he was the victim of identity theft when an email was received and subsequently published by a blogger. For a guy who's supposedly had his ".mil" address highjacked, he doesn't seem all that concerned with an investigation, making his claim of identity theft almost laughable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please do not forget that Diaz sent more than just the names. The data he sent included classified information about some detainees which jeopardized the lives of those detainees and their families. If he had sent just the names, he would not have been prosecuted. With regard to your WTF questions about how detainees were supposed to get attorneys, they had the ability to send mail and a request for representation would not have been censored. Last point, if Diaz were so brave, why did he never complain while he was there and why did he send the info anonymously?