Former JAG Who Served Sentence for Violating Espionage Act Comments on His Case & Bradley Manning’s Trial

Matthew Diaz (US Navy Photo)

The military judge at Fort Meade in Maryland is expected to announce how long Pfc. Bradley Manning will be sentenced to prison some time tomorrow morning, August 21.

Ahead of the announcement, I contacted Matthew Diaz, a former Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) at the Guantanamo Bay prison. He released 558 names of detainees being held in the prison to the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2005. They were the names of captives whose enemy combatant status had been confirmed by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal.

He was prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He was sentenced to six months in prison and dismissed from the Navy.

Diaz told Firedoglake he was convicted of improper mailing of classified information, committing conduct unbecoming of an officer in the military, willfully communicating information to persons unauthorized to receive it and violating the “reason to believe” part of the Espionage Act and maintaining defense information in an unauthorized location, another violation of the Espionage Act.

His case was heard by a jury, not only a judge. He “didn’t want to leave” the decision “in one person’s hands,” even though there was a possibility that officers would be influenced by sensational aspects of the government’s case.

Diaz initially faced thirty-six and a half years when he was charged. During the pretrial phase, the number of years he faced was knocked down to thirty-four years. He was found not guilty of one of the Espionage Act offenses that suggested he had intended to do harm, which reduced the sentence to twenty-four years. There was a merging of unreasonably multiplied charges for sentencing that reduced his sentence to thirteen years. (Similar to how Manning’s maximum sentence went from 136 years to 90 years.)

Throughout Manning’s court martial, military prosecutors have invoked Diaz’s case. It came up when the government filed a motion Judge Army. Col. Lind granted, which prevented discussion of harm or damage during the trial.

As Diaz recalled, his “version of events,” his “motivations” were “irrelevant” to the judge. He was not allowed to testify on his actual intent, “although there was an intent crime charged.” He was prevented from putting any evidence on his intent on the record prior to a verdict in the trial.

His defense had wanted to have lawyers involved in representing detainees testify on why they needed the information he disclosed. This would have explained his “pure motivations” and shown he had no “reason to believe” his disclosure would hurt the government. However, that was not permitted.

Diaz’s defense had family members testify just like Manning did. His daughter, who was fifteen at the time, his ex-wife (and daughter’s mother) and his current wife testified. Also, Diaz gave an unsworn statement, which began with his defense attorney asking a series of questions and answers basically to show there had been no harm and to provide the court with testimony on his “true intent.”

“I was not allowed to testify on investigating allegations of abuse and the lack of due process and all that-what motivated me to do what I did,” prior to the verdict, Diaz said.

Like the testimony from Manning’s family, his family’s testimony served to present an “overall picture” of who he was and not just the moment of time around when he committed the offenses. Family showed the court who he was when he was growing up. His chain of command also testified on his performance in the military, all to impress upon the members that they should not have ruined his entire life based on his disclosure of Guantanamo detainee names.

There were closed sessions during his trial, but Diaz suggested they did not need to be closed. The proceedings had been closed to give jury members a “heightened sense” that something bad was about to be presented. There was typically nothing in the sessions “that would indicate any harm.” His defense tried to challenge the document being classified to rebut the government’s explanations for why they thought the names should not have been released. It was a “bunch of guessing games and possibilities” and mostly they showed the government was “trying to protect embarrassing information getting out.”

Diaz said he could empathize with Manning’s decision to disclose some of the information he was seeing from the inside and right clear wrongs like Diaz had tried to “right a clear wrong” with his disclosure. He had known from the inside that public affairs officers were not telling the truth. While he had no idea what was going to happen—that the names he disclosed would be officially released just over a year later, he saw the administration of President George W. Bush “continue to stonewall” publicly identifying the men who were being held in prison at Guantanamo Bay.

There were many wrongs, he added, “that could have been disclosed, but I was more focused [on] at least getting these actual human beings their representation so that the treatment could change as well. They did get different treatment whenever they were represented because we knew they had an outlet for complaints and things could be investigated from the outside.”

While both Diaz and Manning had pure motivations and genuine beliefs their information would not do any significant harm or damage beyond possibly causing embarrassment, the two acts are clearly distinguishable by the fact that Diaz’s information did not go to a “public entity.” It was sent in a Valentine’s Day card to Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer litigating habeas matters in court. She had won the right to bring habeas cases for somewhere around sixty detainees, according to Diaz.

The information was a “lot less likely to cause harm because it was just with this one organization of lawyers and not to the press where everyone could see it.”

Manning also released a much, much greater volume of information than Diaz, which distinguishes the two cases as well.

Finally, Diaz addressed the ethic of taking responsibility. All throughout the process Manning has taken responsibility for his actions, including entering a plea that exposed himself to the possibility of being sentenced to twenty years in prison before trial.

Diaz said he had acknowledged the wrong, that he had taken information the government did not want disclosed. He had also disclosed information a client may have wanted to keep confidential. This was a “breach of trust” to “violate the law in trying to correct a bigger breaking” of the law. Future JAGs could possibly not be trusted as much because of his actions.

It was important to acknowledge what had been done and be ready to face the consequences, but, he concluded, those consequences should be reasonable compared to what was done.

Manning was convicted of committing twenty offenses that included multiple violations of the Espionage Act, embezzlement of government property and wantonly causing intelligence to be published on the internet that would be accessible to the enemy.

The government requested the judge sentence Manning to sixty years in prison yesterday to send a message to other soldiers not to steal classified information.

Manning’s defense has urged the judge to issue a sentence that will allow Manning to return to a “productive place in society” and have a life after serving his sentence – find someone to love, get married, have children and be able to them grow. The defense has asked the judge not to let Manning rot in jail for a length of time longer than the time that the information Manning disclosed will be classified.

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