Sunday, December 16, 2007

Attending To Details

Last Monday I posted (here) on an op-ed piece written by Morris D. Davis, the former Chief Prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions, in which he explains the reasons he felt compelled to walk away from that job. Essentially, the reasons all boiled down to one: the prosecutions were being controlled by a political agenda that wanted convictions at any cost. More evidence of that agenda and its effect on military justice surfaced yesterday via an article in the Boston Globe:

The Bush administration is pushing to take control of the promotions of military lawyers, escalating a conflict over the independence of uniformed attorneys who have repeatedly raised objections to the White House's policies toward prisoners in the war on terrorism.

The administration has proposed a regulation requiring "coordination" with politically appointed Pentagon lawyers before any member of the Judge Advocate General corps - the military's 4,000-member uniformed legal force - can be promoted. ...

The former JAG officers say the regulation would end the uniformed lawyers' role as a check-and-balance on presidential power, because politically appointed lawyers could block the promotion of JAGs who they believe would speak up if they think a White House policy is illegal.

Retired Major General Thomas Romig, the Army's top JAG from 2001 to 2005, called the proposal an attempt "to control the military JAGs" by sending a message that if they want to be promoted, they should be "team players" who "bow to their political masters on legal advice."...

The JAG rule would give new leverage over the JAGs to the Pentagon's general counsel, William "Jim" Haynes, who was appointed by President Bush. Haynes has been the Pentagon's point man in the disputes with the JAGs who disagreed with the administration's assertion that the president has the right to bypass the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections for wartime detainees.
[Emphasis added]

Here's the problem. Lawyers have an obligation to do everything they can, ethically, to represent their clients. However, in addition to being advocates for their clients, lawyers are also officers of the court, which means they also have an obligation to the system of justice of which they are a part. When a prosecutor discovers, for example, that evidence has been obtained illegally, he or she is bound not to use the evidence, even if that makes acquittal likely. If a prosecutor comes across exculpatory evidence which shows that there is some likelihood that that the defendant is in fact innocent, he or she must share that evidence with the defendant.

Apparently these rules don't sit right with the current administration, and it is bound and determined to circumvent those rules in the pettiest way possible: by punishing those military lawyers who take their ethical responsibilities seriously. For this administration, winning at any cost is far more important than justice. But, then, why should this arena be any different than the others the administration has determined to destroy.

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