Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who'll Defend the Detainees?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who'll Defend the Detainees?

Article excerpt

As a career military lawyer, retired Marine Corps Col. Grant Lattin defended and prosecuted soldiers accused of rape or desertion.

But not much in his two decades of military service has prepared him for the next possible assignment: defending illegal combatants detained by the US at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Last month, the Pentagon invited civilian lawyers to help represent the 680 detainees, with alleged ties to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Specially created military commissions will try many of them for everything from spying to war crimes.

Retired officers such as Colonel Lattin, who are familiar with military law, are struggling to decide whether they want to participate in cases that promise to be historic but use rules they view as heavily skewed toward the government.

Detainees tried before military commissions will receive fewer legal protections than American service members tried before courts martial.

Even though prosecutors can use a broader array of evidence than permitted in a civilian court or a military court martial, civilian defense lawyers will not be allowed to see some classified evidence. They may also not be allowed to confer with colleagues not assigned to the case or have private conversations with their clients.

Appeals will go to a Pentagon-appointed review panel, the secretary of Defense, and the president, but will not be reviewed by civilian courts.

What's more, the defendants, many of whom are unlikely to trust American lawyers, are barred from hiring non-US citizens. They can select their own military or civilian counsel - but they have to pay for it themselves.

Those drawbacks leave many of the former officers most familiar with military justice unwilling to get involved. "I wouldn't touch this with a 10-foot pole," says one retired senior military lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous. …

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