Bad Lawyers


The New York Times today publishes a follow-up piece to yesterday’s details of the Army criminal investigative report regarding the death of two detainees in Bagram. According to the new investigation info, military lawyers at Bagram didn’t seem to think anyone was responsible for the deaths of Mullah Habibullah and Dilawar. Their reasoning? According to military lawyer Maj. Jeff Bovarnick, “I could never see any criminal intent on the part of the MPs to cause the detainee to die.” By that logic if you were to savagely beat someone, but claim you didn’t want that person to die, you might go scot-free. It gets even better:

Military lawyers…acknowledged statements by more than a half a dozen guards that they or others had struck the detainees…and emphasized that it would be difficult to determine the responsibility of individual guards for the injuries sustained in custody. ‘No one blow could be determined to have caused the death,’ the former senior staff lawyer at Bagram, Col. David L. Hayden, said he had been told by the Army’s lead investigator. ‘It was reasonable to conclude at the time that repetitive administration of legitimate force resulted in all the injuries we saw.

So. If you and 26 other people beat someone until they died, and you didn’t know which kick to which part of the body actually killed them, there’s no need to prosecute anyone. Fantastic. Not to mention that it seems highly farcical to refer to the beating of the two prisoners as “legitimate force” considering that both detainees were shackled at their hands and feet throughout their stay at Bagram.

It’s just more embarrassing legal advice and interpretation surrounding detainee abuse coming from lawyers who seem to have, at best, ill-conceived interpretations of the law. Starting from the top—with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and his legal memo stating that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to those thought to be members of Taliban or al-Qaeda because “the war on terrorism is a new kind of war.”

It seems to continue on down the hierarchy—Gonzales, senior lawyers at Bagram…then there was Guy Womack, Charles Graner’s defense attorney who compared piling detainees in pyramids to cheerleaders forming pyramids, and leashed prisoners to parental leashes on children at malls. And that was just his opening argument. Most recently, Lynndie England’s military lawyer, Cpt. Jonathan Crisp, called Graner to the stand as a defense witness in England’s trial. Graner proceeded to testify that England was simply following orders and wasn’t aware she was doing anything wrong, completely contradicting England’s guilty plea which would have given her a reduced sentence. You’d think Crisp would have anticipated as such, considering Graner had, just the day before, given a handwritten note to the press saying that he didn’t want England to plead guilty. Come on, guys, logic and reason—isn’t that at least part of what they teach you in law school?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate