Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Colonel Morris Davis is an outspoken guy. And it’s gotten him fired.
From September 2005 to October 2007, he served as the Pentagon’s chief prosecutor down in Guantanamo.
But he resigned on principle, going public with his view that the Bush Administration had politicized the trials and stacked the deck so badly against detainees that they couldn’t get a fair trial.
Colonel Davis then retired from the military and went on to work at the Library of Congress as assistant director in the foreign affairs, defense, and trade division of the Congressional Research Service.
While there, he continued to speak out against the military tribunals in Guantanamo. In an op-ed on November 10, 2009, in the Wall Street Journal, he took issue with the Obama Justice Department’s decision to try some Guantanamo detainees in federal court and others in military court.
“In effect, it means that the standard of justice for each detainee will depend in large part upon the government's assessment of how high the prosecution's evidence can jump and which evidentiary bar it can clear,” he wrote. “The evidence likely to clear the high bar gets gold medal justice: a traditional trial in our federal courts. The evidence unable to clear the federal court standard is forced to settle for a military commission trial, a specially created forum that has faltered repeatedly for more than seven years. That is a double standard I suspect we would condemn if it was applied to us.”
He also published a letter to the editor in The Washington Post on the same date, criticizing former Attorney General Michael Mukasey for contending that “the decision to try Guantanamo detainees in federal courts comes down to a choice between protecting the American people and showcasing American justice.” This, said Davis, was “fear mongering.”
Even though Davis made his comments on his own time and used his home computer to do so, the Library of Congress sacked him for it.
“On November 13, 2009, you were admonished in writing for your poor judgment and lack of discretion with respect to a letter to the editor and an opinion piece you authored for publication that appeared separately in The Wall Street Joumal and The Washington Post,” Daniel P. Mulhollan, director of the Congressional Research Service, wrote to Davis. “During a meeting on November 12, 2009, in which your conduct leading to the admonishment was discussed, you neither expressed remorse for your actions nor awareness that your poor judgment could do serious harm to the trust and confidence Congress reposes in CRS.”
On January 8, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Library of Congress to get Davis his job back, claiming the dismissal violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights.
“Col. Davis brings these claims not only to vindicate his own constitutional rights but also the public’s First Amendment right to receive his speech and hear his views,” the suit says.
Matt Raymond, director of communications for the Library of Congress, would not comment directly on the case.
“I'm sure you'll understand that now that there's actual litigation,” says Raymond, “we need to be extremely careful with what we say.”
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.