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Lock ‘Em Up

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The prosecutors, that is. More evidence of gross misconduct by Bush-era Justice Department prosecutors, and this time the federal judge handling the matter is openly talking about sending them—not their targets—straight to the Big House. McClatchy newspapers report:

The Justice Department improperly withheld important psychiatric records of a government witness who was used in a “significant” number of Guantanamo cases, a federal judge has concluded. The government censored parts of the records, but enough has been made public that it’s clear that the witness, a fellow detainee, was being treated weekly for a serious psychological problem and was questioned about whether he had any suicidal thoughts. The witness provided information in the government’s case for detaining Aymen Saeed Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor.

This happened a week back and we’re only just now learning about it… because prosecutors insisted that much of the material was “classified” and had to be withheld. Mighty convenient, those security classifications. Seems they can be counted upon to keep your embarrassing misdeeds out of the newspapers most of the time. But the misdeeds here are stunning, even by the eroded standards of the Bush era. Individuals are being prosecuted and the Justice Department rests its case on the back of witnesses who are insane, without, of course, letting the defense know about their insanity. Federal Judge Emett Sullivan was not amused:

“To hide relevant and exculpatory evidence from counsel and from the court under any circumstances, particularly here where there is no other means to discover this information and where the stakes are so very high … is fundamentally unjust, outrageous and will not be tolerated,” Sullivan said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “How can this court have any confidence whatsoever in the United States government to comply with its obligations and to be truthful to the court?”… “The sanction is going to be high,” he said. “I’ll tell you quite frankly if I have to start incarcerating people to get my point across I’m going to start at the top.”

Sullivan ascertained that the practice of withholding evidence was not unique to the case before him. He directed that other judges be informed of the cases in which the Justice Department has withheld evidence as well.

The case provides yet more evidence of systemic gross misconduct by Bush-era Justice Department prosecutors who took a “victory at all costs” attitude to court. It also shows the Justice Department’s failure to police its own ethics, another systematic shortcoming of the era. But it raises some fundamental questions: why should lawyers who misbehave this way be permitted to wield the extraordinary powers of a federal prosecutor? Why, indeed, should they be permitted to hold a law license?

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