Jury Recommends 6 Months Prison for Topeka Lawyer

By  | 

NORFOLK, Virginia (AP) -- A military jury recommended that a Navy lawyer spend six months in prison and be dismissed from the service for sending a human rights attorney the names of 550 Guantanamo Bay detainees in an unmarked Valentine's Day card.

Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz was convicted Thursday at his court martial of communicating secret information about Guantanamo Bay detainees that could be used to injure the United States and three other charges of leaking information to an unauthorized person.

The jury of seven Navy officers recommended Friday that Diaz receive his pay and benefits while incarcerated, but the sentence must still be approved by Rear Admiral Rick Ruehe. The dismissal will also be reviewed by a military appellate court, the Navy said.

Diaz, who could have received up to 14 years in prison, gave emotional testimony during the sentencing hearing, apologizing for his actions.

"I just want the members to know I'm sincerely sorry for what I did -- a stupid act," Diaz said. "I'm better than that."

"The prosecutors were right: I'm a meticulous man. I should have done better. It was extremely irrational for me to do what I did."

However, after the first day of his trial on Monday, Diaz told The Dallas Morning News that he felt sending the list was the right decision because of how the detainees were being treated.

"My oath as a commissioned officer is to the Constitution of the United States," Diaz said. "I'm not a criminal."

In early 2005, as he was finishing a six-month tour of duty as a legal adviser at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Diaz sent an anonymous note to a lawyer at a New York civil liberties group with a list of the detainees' names.

The Center for Constitutional Rights earlier had won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that terrorism suspects had the right to challenge their detention. But the Pentagon was refusing to identify the men, hampering the group's effort to represent them.

"I had observed the stonewalling, the obstacles we continued to place in the way of the attorneys," Diaz said. "I knew my time was limited. ... I had to do something."

Diaz said he now believes it was "cowardly" to release the names and other identifying information in that manner.

"I was more concerned about damaging my career," Diaz said. "Obviously I chose the wrong path because here I am: My career is in jeopardy, serious jeopardy, much more serious jeopardy than it would have been if I had raised the issue to my chain of command."

Diaz, 41, of Topeka, Kansas, did not testify at his court-martial.

But in an hourlong interview after the opening day of his trial Monday, Diaz said he believes the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terror is illegal. He accused officials of violating international law, such as the Geneva Conventions on the humane treatment of war prisoners, and the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of due process.

"I made a stupid decision, I know, but I felt it was the right decision, the moral decision, the decision that was required by international law," Diaz told the Dallas newspaper. "No matter how the conflict was identified, we were to treat them in accordance with Geneva, and it just wasn't being done."

The Defense Department strenuously rejects such comments.

Bush administration officials have characterized the Guantanamo population overall as "the worst of the worst." Diaz said that is one of two incorrect or false statements.

"The other statement was 'We do not torture,' " said Diaz, whose jobs included tracking and investigating abuse allegations.

"I think a good case could be made for allegations of war crimes, policies that were war crimes," he said. "There was a way to do this properly, and we're not doing it properly."