Legal Ethics

Ex-Navy Lawyer Is Disbarred for Sending Secret Names of Gitmo Detainees to Legal Group

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The Kansas Supreme Court has disbarred a former Navy lawyer who mailed a classified list of Guantanamo detainees to the Center for Constitutional Rights.

A majority of the court supported disbarment for Matthew Diaz, while a minority would have imposed an indefinite suspension, according to the opinion (PDF).

Diaz had printed the detainee names, cut the list into strips, and placed them in a Valentine’s Day card to Barbara Olshansky, the deputy legal director for the Center of Constitutional Rights, according to findings of fact cited by the court. The center had previously requested the names for habeas petitions it planned to file. Olshansky thought the list might be a joke and notified the federal judge handling detainee litigation.

Diaz was court-martialed and convicted of four felonies for mailing classified information, resulting in his dismissal from the Navy and a six-month confinement. Diaz’s lawyer had argued his client was punished enough as a result of the court-martial and sentence.

“Respondent essentially argues that while his actions were wrong his motive was virtuous,” the Kansas Supreme Court said. “In short, he disclosed the information to protect the Guantanamo Bay detainees’ habeas corpus rights declared in the United States Supreme Court opinion of Rasul v. Bush.”

The court noted, however, that Diaz did not take his concerns to higher-ups because, by his own testimony in court-martial proceedings, “I wasn’t really to put—willing to put my neck on the line and jeopardize my career.” The information he disclosed also could have been used to identify detainee interrogation teams, putting them at potential risk, the court said.

Disbarment is appropriate, the court said, given the nature of Diaz’s criminal violations and his “admitted selfish reasons for the clandestine disclosure of classified information.”

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