Guantanamo defense lawyers show integrity

In the most recent example of the lack of justice in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. government has fired the first group of military lawyers brought in to represent those detained there. The problem with these lawyers was that they insisted on private conversations with their clients. We commend the lawyers for their integrity and adherence to legal ethics.

The lawyers are military officers recruited specifically to defend detainees in “military commissions.” While the government has largely avoided releasing these proceedings’ details, they seem similar to military tribunals. The proceedings are not trials as we know them, but that is a different issue. Even in less-than-formal trial proceedings, the government must respect certain core concepts of U.S. justice, including attorney-client privilege.

Our legal system functions assuming trials are adversarial proceedings. Both sides devise and make their best arguments, and a judge or jury decides the matter. If the government listens in on the defense planning those arguments, no adversarial aspect remains. It is like an opposing football coach listening in on the other team’s huddle.

An argument supporting the government might be that detainees might disclose intelligence to their lawyers related to possible attacks. However, if the defense lawyers are not already under obligation to disclose such information to the government, the government could make such a rule. It is highly unlikely a military officer would have a problem alerting authorities to a possible security threat.

Our justice system is adversarial and supposedly blind. In Guantanamo Bay it is becoming more evident that it is locked up and shackled. Under no circumstances does justice include the prosecution spying on the defense.

The government should take the actions of fired military lawyers as a reality check and conduct the military commissions in keeping with core legal concepts.