Ex-Navy Lawyer Explains Guantanamo Leak
Ex-Navy Lawyer Explains Guantanamo Leak
Former Navy lawyer Matthew Diaz was sentenced to six months in the brig for leaking the names of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay to a rights group. Despite remorse, he says "I can live comfortably with myself, making that decision, based on the facts as they were at the time."
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
In 2005, Matthew Diaz was a Navy lawyer, a lieutenant commander based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. When Washington was balking at disclosing the names of detainees there, Diaz acted on his own. He printed out a 39-page document listing all the Guantanamo detainees. He sent it anonymously with a Valentine's Day card to a human rights lawyer who worked for the group that was suing to get the names released — the Center for Constitutional Rights. The lawyer took the document to the judge who was hearing the center's lawsuit. The judge gave it to the government. And to make a long story short, Matthew Diaz was court-martialed, convicted and sentenced to six months in the Navy Brig.
He's now free, and he joins us from Jacksonville, Florida.
Welcome to the program.
Lieutenant Commander MATTHEW DIAZ (Former Staff Judge Advocate; Judge Advocate General's Corps, U.S. Navy): Good afternoon.
SIEGEL: And first, take us back to 2005. Why did you take it upon yourself to release the names of the detainees?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Well, my observations in my tour there, the government was not complying with the Supreme Court ruling in Rasul.
SIEGEL: That was the name of the case, so…
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Yes. And right now, my case is on appeal so it is very difficult to discuss the specifics of the case and my conduct. So, I'm walking on a fine line here since my case is still on appeal. To back up a bit, the Rasul decision didn't order the government to release the names. It basically said the detainees were entitled to…
SIEGEL: To representation.
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: …bring a claim in habeas in the district courts. And then, a later district court decision that implemented Rasul said that they were entitled to representation or to prefect those habeas claims. And without knowing the names, it was difficult for the Center for Constitutional Rights to bring these habeas claims. So, that's - I guess, that's the background, the history of that. It was not a direct order to release the names.
SIEGEL: Was it unjust? Was the position of the government unjust at that time?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: On my opinion, that grounded any sort of necessity. They did cite privacy concerns of the detainees later. But that was not the case, so it was mainly to prevent the cases from going to court. And the continued stonewalling that I observed influenced a lot of my decision to take the actions that I did.
SIEGEL: At Guantanamo, you are in a squeeze between your own understanding of the law and the obligations of somebody in the service to obey orders. How should people do that? How should people reconcile, in your view, the conflict between orders coming down the chain of command and a claim on one's professional judgment and/or conscience?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: That's difficult. I haven't figured that out, particularly in an environment like Guantanamo, where you're so far removed from other resources that an individual may have in a typical military base. I imagine an inspector general at a post may be helpful, consulting an attorney, but those things aren't necessarily available down at Gitmo. So, it's a little bit harder, and I don't really have an answer, but…
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: …I hope somebody should try to reconcile that you have to live with not taking action and live without any conscience for the rest of your life, or take an action and being willing to accept the consequences that may come from it.
SIEGEL: Recently, when you acknowledged an award that you received for what you did, you said that you've been guided by the Constitution, by your legal training, by the Supreme Court ruling that you felt governed the case and did, and by your moral compass. True?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Yes.
SIEGEL: When you were sentenced, you addressed the court-martial, and at that time you said of your actions, I'm disgraced, I'm ashamed, I let the Navy down. Was it what you had to say to get a lighter sentence or have you had a change of heart about what you did over the past couple of years?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: It is true, as a Judge Advocate General Corps officer, I think I let my peers down.
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Maybe the future JAGs will be distrusted because of my actions. So, in that sense, yes, I let the JAG Corps down and the Navy as a whole. I was definitely remorseful there. I don't think I necessarily had to say it. I needed to say it because it was true.
SIEGEL: You spoke of what you've done as a stupid act in that statement?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Yes. Yes - the sneaky way I did it without including any kind of notes and the Valentine's Day card and…
SIEGEL: So, it was the way that you did it that you're especially remorseful, but as for the fact of doing it, releasing the names of the detainees at Guantanamo, is it something in hindsight that you are proud that you did or that you're ashamed that you did? How would you describe your attitude toward it?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: I can live with myself. I mean, obviously, I didn't know that about a year later they were going to release the majority of the names to the public. So, I lived comfortably with myself with making that decision based on the facts as they were at that time. And you have regrets. Primarily, the impact that it's had on my family — my wife and my daughter — the loss of income, obviously, the stigma attached with the felony level conviction.
SIEGEL: Yes. When you say you live comfortably, you mean you live ethically, morally comfortably with what you did. Life, I gather, has been not so comfortable for you after getting out.
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: No. No. Not having a law license - it's suspended right now, so I'm not able to practice in the civilian sector as a lawyer. So, yeah, it's been difficult to find a meaningful employment, particularly with a conviction on my record.
SIEGEL: Now, there's one aspect to your story that I want to ask you about, and I can't quite figure out if it's completely irrelevant and coincidental to the story of what happened at Guantanamo, or if it has to do with the way you've come to see justice and life and unfairness. And that's the story of your father. You have a father in death row in California. And I gather you feel that he has been convicted for lack of an ardent defense on his path.
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Yes. It just was not a fair process. Probably, since it is part of my life, a background of my life, I mean, it probably helped form the compass of my morality or the core of my morality and - but I wouldn't say that that's factored in specifically in my decision to do what I did at Guantanamo. That experience, along with many others in my life, instills a sense of justice or what would be injustice.
SIEGEL: Do you feel like a free man now?
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Yes. Compared to what it was like in the brig and the lifestyle in the brig, I definitely have appreciated freedom in a different way. And, yes, I do feel free. And it's, you know, it's great to be here in this country and struggling and just trying to continue doing the right thing.
SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Diaz, thank you very much for talking with us.
Lt. Cmdr. DIAZ: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Matthew Diaz now lives with his family in Jacksonville, Florida. He has been working as a substitute teacher since his release last fall.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.