No Comment — May 18, 2007, 9:41 am

The Courage to Stand Up Against War Crimes

Lieutenant Commander Matthew Diaz has been acquitted on accusations of trying to “aid the enemy” but convicted on counts of passing classified information, reports the Associated Press. He thus emerges as the latest in a long line of military martyrs–including James Yee and Ian Fishback–who have suffered persecution for their opposition to the use of torture and other criminal practices in Guantanamo and other detention facilities. His conviction comes on the same day on which the House of Representatives, in the face of a veto threat from President Bush, voted to close the Guantánamo detention facilities. The Dallas Morning News publishes an account of the Diaz court-martial today, with a brief interview with Commander Diaz. He describes his frustration with official policies of lawlessness and dishonor that led him to take a decisive act of protest:

“I felt it was the right decision, the moral decision, the decision that was required by international law,” Cmdr. Diaz said. “No matter how the conflict was identified, we were to treat them in accordance with Geneva, and it just wasn’t being done.”

As I noted before, Diaz was right. And a federal district court so ruled.

Diaz places himself in line with other key figures in the Navy who stood up to unlawful practices in this area, including the Department of the Navy’s General Counsel, Alberto Mora. As former Navy Judge Advocate General Admiral John Hutson stated: “The way we have dealt with detainees risks blemishing the reputation of this great country for generations to come.” Other retired military leaders have been still harsher in their assessment of the criminal practices introduced by the Bush administration.

In response to questioning from the Morning News pressing the absurdity of the prosecution, Navy spokesperson Beth Baker stated that she “could not give a reason” why the Navy had decided to press the court-martial.

Let me try to help Ms. Baker out. Actual prosecutions of national security breaches by the Bush administration, like the prosecution of Commander Diaz, almost without exception involve persons viewed as political enemies – that is, persons who are viewed as disloyal to the Republican party and its current leadership.

When breaches are committed by the president’s immediate retainers–as has just been documented with Alberto Gonzales, Andrew Card, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby–nothing happens, unless a special prosecutor is appointed.

All of this seems quite familiar to me. I think of the constant intimidation and threats against Andrei Sakharov–invoking state secrets concerns in a continuous effort to silence the Soviet Union’s great voice of decency and to undermine the movement for democracy and human rights which ultimately brought down tyrannical Communism. I think of the prosecution on violations of nuclear secrets of the fearless environmentalist Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin. I think of the prosecution on state secrets grounds of Kyrgyzstan’s Vice President Feliks Kulov–in a trial I was permitted to monitor. All of these acts were outrageous abuses–the hallmarks of a totalitarian regime. And they parallel perfectly the conduct of the Bush administration in cases like the prosecution of Commander Diaz.

Matthew Diaz’s act of defiance makes of him a hero–a person committed to upholding the traditions that made our nation great–especially the injunction for humane treatment of prisoners first set down by George Washington following the Battle of Trenton in December 1776. The fact that Diaz has been persecuted while the monsters who authored torture gain promotion is a national disgrace.

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