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Navy Lawyer Convicted for Crusade in a Valentine

Posted Oct 22, 2007 2:13 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Navy lawyer who mailed a secret list of the names of 551 detainees at Guantanamo to a public interest group in a valentine was convicted for his act of defiance this spring.

Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz was disillusioned by the government secrecy policy, which made it difficult for pro bono lawyers to file petitions on their behalf, the New York Times Magazine reports in a profile. He also was unhappy with the government’s handling of prisoner abuse complaints and a Justice Department suggestion that lawyers at the base should devise a reason why it was necessary to monitor detainees’ conversations with their civilian lawyers.

“I felt like nothing was ever going to change,” he told the Times.

So he mailed the names to the Center for Constitutional Rights in the valentine in an effort to avoid suspicion at the Guantanamo post office.

Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer at the center, at first thought the valentine was a joke, she told the Times reporter. After agonizing about what to do, she called the office of a federal judge hearing her suit over Guantanamo issues. She was ordered to turn the material over to the Justice Department, and the FBI traced the list to Diaz.

He was convicted and sentenced to six months' confinement, partly because his list had codes showing which detainees had given information to interrogators. By the time of his conviction, the detainees’ names had already been revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Diaz opted for a career in the law after his father, Robert Diaz, was convicted of murdering 12 elderly patients who died unexpectedly at the hospitals where he worked as a nurse. Robert Diaz’s defense by a troubled public defender’s office was “a debacle,” the magazine story says. His habeas appeal is still pending.

Diaz plans to file an appeal now on his own behalf, working with the same lawyer who helped his father appeal his conviction.

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