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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

JAG Officer Who Named Detainees Disbarred

(CN) - The Kansas Supreme Court disbarred a former judge advocate general who sent out a classified list of Guantanamo detainee names hidden inside a Valentine's Day card.

Matthew Diaz received a commission to serve as a JAG officer for the U.S. Navy in 1994, and he was assigned to the Joint Task Force in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2004.

The court notes that Diaz's concern over habeas rights stemmed from to his personal history. His father, a nurse, was sentenced to death for injecting 12 patients with a lethal dose of lidocaine, but pending habeas motions ensured that he was never executed.

After the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Rasul v. Bush that Guantanamo detainees have the right to challenge their detention, Diaz received a letter from the legal director of the Center of Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky, requesting the names of each detainee.

According to the judgment, Diaz struggled to reconcile his military duty with what he believed to be his ethical responsibility.

Ultimately, he defied orders and sent Olshansky an anonymous Valentine's card with a list of detainees, their national origin and information about their interrogation team pasted inside. The only return address was "GTMO."

Thinking the card was a hoax, Olshansky turned it over to the federal judge handling detainee habeas cases, who realized that the list was genuine.

In 2007, Diaz was court-martialed, found guilty of wrongfully disclosing classified documents, sentenced to six months in prison and dismissed from the Navy.

After reviewing the details of his case, the Kansas Supreme Court disbarred Diaz last week from practicing law in the state.

"According to the record before us, respondent was asked during his general court-martial proceedings why he chose to disclose the classified information surreptitiously," according to the unsigned ruling. "He replied, 'Selfish reasons, I was more concerned with self-preservation, I didn't want to get - make any waves and jeopardize my career.' When asked why he did not share with his superior officers his concerns about the Navy's then-refusal to release the information to Ms. Olshansky, Diaz replied, 'I was worried about the effect it would have on me. ... I wasn't ready to put - willing to put my neck on the line and jeopardize my career at the time. ... [So], I did it anonymously.'"

In particular, the court noted that Diaz released information about the interrogation team assigned to each detainee, which "could increase the chances of their individual members being publicly identified," the ruling states. "Given the nature of their work, such identification could put them at personal risk by any Guantanamo Bay detainee's supporters around the world.

"Based upon the number and nature of respondent's violations and criminal convictions, the conclusions of the military courts, the decision of the Judge Advocate General permanently revoking respondent's certification as a lawyer in the naval service, respondent's admitted selfish reasons for the clandestine disclosure of classified information, and the standards listed above, we conclude disbarment is the appropriate sanction. A minority of this court would impose the lesser sanction of indefinite suspension."

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