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Naval lawyer guilty of spilling captives' names

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

A military jury Thursday convicted Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz of spilling national security secrets in 2005 when he mailed a list of Guantánamo detainees to a New York City human rights group inside a Valentine's Day card.

It took a seven-member jury of naval officers Diaz's rank or higher three hours to return four guilty findings in the national security court-martial.

At most, conviction will carry 14 years. The jury cleared Diaz of a single charge, punishable by 10 years in prison, of knowing that he would endanger national security when he hit a print button at the remote Navy base in southeast Cuba to produce the list in January 2005.

Diaz, 41, was deputy director of the detention center's legal office at the time. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights was filing unlawful-detention lawsuits against the Bush administration, and seeking a list of all detainees. The Pentagon refused and it would be more than a year before the names became public in a freedom of information lawsuit.

Diaz's wife, ex-wife and 15-year-old daughter huddled in a circle and sobbed upon the court-martial's conclusion at Norfolk Naval Station Thursday evening.

Sentencing was slated for Friday morning after testimony from character witnesses for Diaz.

The list that Diaz mailed inside the Valentine was never made public.

Instead, lawyers at the New York center turned it over to a federal court, which in turn alerted the FBI and tracked the list back to Diaz using computer forensics and fingerprinting.

Diaz, now posted in Jacksonville, was not allowed to provide a so-called justification defense at the trial.

His attorney, Patrick McLain of Dallas, said his client had believed during his six-month tour at the Navy base in Cuba that a then-recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Rasul v. Bush, meant that civil liberties lawyers were entitled to detainee names in order to sue on their behalf.

''It's really Matt's patriotism more than anything that drove this. He believed in the U.S. Constitution. He believed in everything he learned in law school,'' said McLain, a retired Marine major and former military judge.

''It's not that he thinks the detainees to a man are deserving of release,'' he said. Just that lawyers were entitled to learn their names in order to represent them.

Diaz did not, however, know that a code associated with each name would be considered classified as ''Secret,'' because, according to testimony at the trial, the series of numbers and letters with each name indicated interrogators' and analysts' ''sources and methods'' used by the detention center's intelligence unit.

The jury of seven senior Navy officers heard specifics from the Guantánamo intelligence chief in a secret session.

At closing arguments, the prosecutor told the court that Diaz willfully and knowingly mailed the detainee list off the base on his last day of a six-month tour to avoid detection.

''It wasn't by accident. It was deliberate, with purpose. It brings dishonor and disgrace on him,'' said Cmdr. Rex Guinn, the prosecutor.

He cast the Valentine as ``a card that contained the nation's secrets.''

Countered McLain: ''This was imprudent, dumb, sneaky, if you want, in the way he sent it off.'' But, he said, he didn't do it to help another country or harm the United States.

In the end, McLain said, he was driven by a ''moral dilemma'' over what he saw as Pentagon stonewalling for a legitimate request to identify the captives in indefinite detention.

Or, as Diaz sees it, ''He did the right thing in the wrong way,'' said McLain.

The Pentagon today holds about 385 ''enemy combatants'' at Guantánamo. Two are currently facing war crimes charges.

A third, David Hicks, 31, of Australia, has pleaded guilty to material support for terrorism as an al Qaeda foot soldier in Afghanistan -- and been sentenced to nine months in prison, most in his homeland.

 

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