Monday, May 14, 2007

Guantanamo Valentine Revisited

Naval officer sentenced to six months in prison, discharge

The Virginian-Pilot reports:

A Navy lawyer so disillusioned with the government's handling of foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he sent classified information about 550 men in custody there to a civilian attorney was sentenced Friday to six months in prison and dismissal from the service.

Lt. Cmdr. Matthew M. Diaz was convicted Thursday on four of five charges stemming from his actions in early January 2005, while stationed at Guantanamo Bay.

The most serious conviction - violating the Espionage Act by sending classified information to someone not entitled to receive it - carried the possibility of a 10-year sentence.

The four charges carried a maximum 14-year sentence.

"I am very, very happy with the results," Diaz said before leaving the courtroom at Norfolk Naval Station. He began his sentence in the brig Friday night.

The seven-member jury of officers took more than three hours to determine Diaz's sentence - longer than they spent convicting him.

The military justice system doesn't have sentencing guidelines, only maximum punishments, and military juries have wide latitude in imposing punishments.

The sentencing hearing began with emotional testimony from the officer's ex-wife, Melissa Diaz-Reed; their daughter, Anna Marie Diaz; and his current wife, also named Anna Marie Diaz. All three women live in Jacksonville, Fla., where Diaz is currently stationed.

His 15-year-old daughter described her father as her best friend.

"He does everything for me," Anna Marie Diaz said, her voice breaking. "When I have a dance performance, he's always there. When I need help with school, he helps me."

Diaz-Reed and Diaz's wife, who is in nursing school, also offered teary-eyed accounts of how they would suffer if Diaz was sent to prison or kicked out of the Navy.

But the most riveting moments came later, when Diaz offered an unsworn statement and explained his intent when he mailed a list of the so-called "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo to Barbara Olshansky in January 2005.

Olshansky, then a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, had been part of a landmark lawsuit leading to the Supreme Court's decision in Rasul v. Bush the previous year. The court ruled on June 28, 2004, that Guantanamo detainees had a right to challenge their detention in federal court.

Diaz arrived at Guantanamo a week later for a six-month tour as deputy staff judge advocate.

He said the government's refusal to release detainee names didn't comply with the spirit of the Rasul case.

"I felt there was some stonewalling on what they were entitled to by the government," Diaz said, facing the jury. "The Supreme Court had decided, and I felt we were unnecessarily placing obstacles in the way. "

The government released the names of those in custody in 2006 in response to a lawsuit brought by The Associated Press.

Prosecutors argued the names weren't the heart of the case. It was other identifying information from the intelligence database that could have jeopardized national security, they said, such as the country where detainees were captured and the interrogation teams handling them.

"One thing I want to make clear is that this was not about the release of names," lead prosecutor Cmdr. Rex Guinn said after sentencing.

"We think this will send a clear message you can't just release classified information, no matter how good an intention you think you have."

In his 37-minute appearance before the jury, Diaz answered questions from his lawyer. He was self-critical, saying his misconduct "has caused a lot of harm to a lot of people."

He said he could have chosen other options to express his disagreement with the government's handling of the legal issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay.

"I could have gone to the chief of staff, I could have gone to the IG (inspector general)," or to his commanding officers in Guantanamo, Diaz said. "There were a lot of better ways to do this, and I didn't take those better ways."

He also criticized his decision to send the information to Olshansky anonymously, saying he mailed the information off in a goofy-looking Valentine "for selfish reasons."

"I wasn't really willing to put my neck on the line, to jeopardize my career," he said. " So I did it anonymously. I'm disgraced, I'm ashamed. I was an inspiration to my family. I let them down. I let the JAG Corps down. I let the Navy down."

Though Diaz's prison term was far less than maximum, he may be more affected in the long run by losing his job, benefits and retirement.

Military members convicted of certain crimes forfeit their pay and benefits almost immediately. The jury recommended, however, that Diaz receive his pay and benefits for six more months because of his dependents.

Rear Adm. Rick Ruehe, who oversees the Navy's Mid-Atlantic region, must approve the waiver and sign off on the jury's sentence. He cannot impose a longer or harsher punishment but could decide to lessen it.

Even if Ruehe decides not to endorse Diaz's dismissal, his conviction on an espionage charge could trigger a federal provision that would prevent him from collecting a government pension.

Diaz spent more than 20 years in uniform, entering the Army as an enlisted soldier in 1983 as a high school dropout. He earned his GED and most of the credits toward a bachelor's degree while in the Army, Diaz said Friday.

In 1991, he enrolled in Washburn University School of Law in Kansas, and re-entered the military as a member of the Navy JAG Corps in 1995.