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“Noble Motive” No Excuse For Revealing Classified Gitmo Prisoner Information

On July 15, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (USCOAAF) held that excluding evidence about a Navy Deputy Staff Judge Advocate's reasons for revealing classified information about prisoners being held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo), was harmless error.

When Lieutenant Commander Matthew M. Diaz worked at Gitmo, the names of the Gitmo prisoners were classified. As Deputy Staff Advocate General, Diaz was the point of contact at Gitmo for Barbara Olshansky, an attorney with the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who requested information on the prisoners at Gitmo. His superiors rejected Olshansky's request. However, Diaz downloaded and printed information on the prisoners from a classified military database, cut the printout into twenty pieces and sent it to Olshansky in a Valentine's Day card.

After consulting with an attorney, Olshansky turned the printout and card over to the judge in a Gitmo detainee habeas corpus case she had filed. Diaz was court marshaled and found guilty of violating a general order, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, communicating classified information and removing classified material. The court martial refused to allow introduction of Diaz's motives. He was sentenced to six months confinement and dismissal from the Navy. Diaz appealed and the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Diaz appealed to the USCOAAF.

The USCOAAF held that Diaz's belief that a recent Supreme Court decision compelled release of the information and it was his ethical obligation as an attorney and officer of the court to do so. Whether it was consistent with his duty as a commissioned officer and whether the Gitmo prisoner policies were illegal were properly excluded on three of the charges as motive was irrelevant to any of the charges except behavior unbecoming. For that charge, evidence of motivation was relevant and the court marshal should have admitted it. However, because the error did not have a substantial influence on the court marshal's finding, and the court martial combined that charge with another charge and did not allow additional punishment for it, the error was harmless. The court marshal also properly rejected Diaz's attempt to plead guilty to “conduct unbecoming” as irregular where he substituted "government information not for release" for "classified information" in describing the charges. Therefore, the decision of the lower court was affirmed. See: U.S. v. Diaz, Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, No. 09-0535, Crim. App. No. 200700970.

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Related legal case

U.S. v. Diaz