Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Military Lawyers Put Tribunals on Trial

According to the New York Times, military lawyers assigned by the Pentagon to defend Guantánamo detainees have been giving an unexpectedly vigorous defense in public, "not only in asserting their clients' innocence but also in denouncing the tribunal system as inherently unfair and rigged" (Neil A. Lewis, "Military Defenders for Detainees Put Tribunals on Trial," May 4, 2004). The New York Times, for instance, quotes Maj. Michael Mori of the Marines, one of the defense lawyers, at a London news conference: "The system is not set up to provide even the appearance of a fair trial" ("Military Defenders for Detainees Put Tribunals on Trial"). See, also, Raymond Bonner's glowing profile of Mori: "Marine Defends Detainee, Surprises Australians" (Oakland Tribune March 28, 2004 ).

The military lawyers' forceful public criticism has drawn praise from traditional defenders of civil rights and liberties:
Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who was at the event in Oxford, said he was surprised by the public tactics of the military lawyers.

"These folks have been amazing. It's just something I never expected," said Mr. Ratner, whose group, based in New York, is challenging the Guantánamo detentions in federal court. "I always assumed that the prisoners would get an adequate defense, but they're denouncing the entire system with public press conferences." ("Military Defenders for Detainees Put Tribunals on Trial")
The military lawyers have already shattered Washington's hope that "the first of the prisoners to go before a tribunal would plead guilty as part of an agreement to reduce their jail time" ("Military Defenders for Detainees Put Tribunals on Trial"). That alone is more than what many of us expected.

The Pentagon fired the first crew of military lawyers assigned to defend the detainees "after some of its members rebelled against the unfair way the trials have been designed" (James Meek, "US Fires Guantanamo Defence Team," December 3, 2003). It won't be able to dismiss the second crew so easily, now that their criticism has found international attention, but they sure have put their military careers on the line. Or is their courage more than personal -- a sign that, inside the military, from the rank and file to mid-ranking officers, criticism of the George W. Bush administration's cavalier disregard for the Constitution (beyond criticism of the burden that the occupation of Iraq has imposed on military personnel) has been growing, unbeknownst to civilians?

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