Military Lawyers Honored by ACLU for Challenging Guantánamo Policies

July 22, 2005 12:00 am

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Military Lawyers Honored by ACLU for Challenging Guantánamo Policies


NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union tonight will present Medal of Liberty awards to the five military defense lawyers who represented the first round of defendants at the Guantánamo Bay tribunals and challenged the entire military commission system.

Learn more about the five military defense lawyers who are being honored for having represented defendants at the Guantánamo Bay tribunals. >>

“These five uniformed officers have gone above and beyond the call of duty in challenging the gross denial of legal rights to Guantánamo detainees,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “As men and women in uniform, they have boldly demonstrated that national security and the protection of civil liberties need not be at odds.”

The five Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) lawyers were assigned to represent the first round of defendants at the Guantánamo Bay military commission, the first of its kind since World War II. Beyond providing legal representation to their clients, the JAG lawyers have been vocal and effective critics of the entire military commission process, said the ACLU. They have staked their personal reputations and military careers by advocating on their clients’ behalf and criticizing the commission rules and procedures, the lack of resources and the treatment of their clients.

The JAG lawyers are Lieutenant Commanders Charles Swift and Philip Sundel of the Navy, Major Michael D. Mori of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant Colonel Mark A. Bridges of the Army, and Lieutenant Colonel Sharon A. Shaffer of the Air Force. The clients represented by these men and woman include Australian citizen David Hicks, Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul of Yemen, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud Al Qosi, an alleged accountant for al-Qaeda from the Sudan.

Last year, the lawyers filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court, challenging the military tribunal system established by the Bush administration. The lawyers argued in their brief that “the Constitution cannot countenance an open-ended presidential power, with no civilian review whatsoever, to try anyone the president deems subject to a military tribunal, whose rules and judges have been selected by the prosecuting authority itself.” Furthermore, they argued, because there is “no right to civilian review, the government is free to conduct sham trials and condemn to death those who do nothing more than pray to Allah.”

The lawyers join a distinguished list of recipients of the Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award, which was created in 1989 in honor of the ACLU’s founder and comes with a $25,000 prize. Previous winners include Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi, courageous opponents of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II; former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis; and Dolores Huerta, a dedicated champion of the rights of migrant workers.

The Medal of Liberty awards and dinner ceremony comes in the middle of the 2005 ACLU Biennial Conference, during which more than 500 ACLU delegates from all 50 states are meeting in New Orleans to consider and vote on policy resolutions. Topics for discussion at the conference include Supreme Court and Congressional updates, race and criminal justice, religious freedom, media censorship, and challenges to reproductive freedom and lesbian and gay rights.

The conference is also bringing together individuals who are often found on opposite sides of the political spectrum. One plenary session on Saturday, Religion, Morality and Civil Liberties, will feature a panel discussion with Kevin Hasson, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Holly Hollman, counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Congressman Robert Scott (D-VA), Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. The Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law, Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Dr. Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU’s newly created Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

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