(CN) — After transforming from Guantanamo Bay’s chief prosecutor to one of its most outspoken critics, retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis has a new distinction as one of its successful First Amendment litigants.
Davis announced on Tuesday that he will collect $100,000 to settle the lawsuit against the Library of Congress for firing him over his blistering editorials criticizing President Barack Obama for continuing the military commissions system.
In a phone interview, Davis noted that his critiques ran in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post on Veterans Day of 2009.
The colonel found a sense of “symmetry” in the fact that the lawsuit over the fallout settled shortly before Memorial Day this year.
“It’s nice after six and a half years to finally have it behind me,” he said.
When Davis started his stint at Guantanamo, accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators first arrived at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, and the colonel noted that their trial is still nowhere in sight a decade later.
At the time, however, Davis had been prosecuting other cases such as Canadian captive Omar Khadr, who was just 15 years old when captured lobbing a hand grenade in Afghanistan. The colonel described the teenager as a “terrorist” and a “murderer” at a time human-rights activists called the teenager a “child soldier.”
In June 2007, Morris staunchly defended the military tribunals roughly two years deep into his position when he penned a New York Times op-ed titled “The Guantanamo I Know,” calling the base a “clean, safe and humane place for enemy combatants.”
Later that year, Davis had a sharp falling out with the Pentagon over the admission of evidence obtained from waterboarding.
“The guy who said waterboarding is A-okay I was not going to take orders from,” the colonel said, as quoted in the Toronto Star. “I quit.”
Since then, Davis has denounced the system he once led across major media outlets, including in a Wall Street Journal editorial and Washington Post letter to the editor in 2009.
The Library of Congress fired him a year later, and Davis said the incident was a lesson in protecting his constitutional rights.
“I found it deeply offensive to be told that this right did not apply to me,” the colonel said, referring to the First Amendment.
In a statement, he expressed his gratitude to his lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I spent 25 years in the military defending the Constitution, only to be told by the library that it didn’t apply to my personal speech,” he said. “I had always assumed the federal government respected the First Amendment, but instead I had to rely on the ACLU to ensure the free speech rights I defended were not rendered meaningless.”
Losing a job has not made Davis any more reluctant to denounce the status quo at Guantanamo.
“This has become a political process,” he said in an interview. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with justice.”
In a grim reminder of the slow crawl of justice there, military prosecutors have tried to secure testimony for elderly and ill family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks before they die, he noted.
Pre-trial proceedings for the accused 9/11 plotters continue this week without a trial date in sight.
Davis emphasized that scrutiny of Guantánamo is as important as ever.
“Injustice at Guantánamo Bay is every bit as relevant today as it was more than six years ago when I spoke out about it,” he said in a statement. “Guantánamo remains too important a conversation about who we are as Americans to let the federal government try and silence the debate.”
For Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, the settlement illustrates that public employees do not surrender their First Amendment rights.
“That’s doubly so for someone like Col. Davis, whose personal experience is critical for informing any public conversation about Guantánamo’s military commissions,” the attorney said in a statement. “Today’s settlement should send a message to all government employers that the Constitution prevents them from firing people who participate in public debate about government policy.”
Davis said that he hopes that his settlement will show other government employees, “If they believe in the Constitution, it was prevail.”
The Library of Congress declined to comment on the settlement.
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