Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Morris Davis, American Hero

Morris Davis spent 25 years in the Air Force legal service, ending up as the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo. In that position he took the courageous position, in October 2007, of refusing to use evidence obtained through torture. Later that year a torture advocate was named his boss, and he resigned.

For that alone Davis deserves our admiration, but his further adventures in the government have given him another chance to stand up for all of us. After leaving the Air Force Davis became a researcher with the Library of Congress. Quietly plugging away at his job during the day, Davis spent some of his nights writing an op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and a letter to the Washington Post. The op-ed begins:
This past Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the administration will decide by Nov. 16 which Guantanamo detainees will be tried in military commissions trials, and which of them will stand trial in federal courts. But a decision to use both legal settings is a mistake. It will establish a dangerous legal double standard that gives some detainees superior rights and protections, and relegates others to the inferior rights and protections of military commissions. This will only perpetuate the perception that Guantanamo and justice are mutually exclusive. . . .

Double standards don't play well in Peoria. They won't play well in Peshawar or Palembang either. We need to work to change the negative perceptions that exist about Guantanamo and our commitment to the law. Formally establishing a legal double standard will only reinforce them.
Peter Van Buren takes up the story:

In December 2008, Davis went to work as a researcher at the Library of Congress in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division. None of his work was related to Guantanamo. He was not a spokesperson for, or a public face of, the library. He was respected at work. Even the people who fired him do not contest that he did his “day job” as a researcher well.

On November 12, 2009, the day after his op-ed and letter appeared, Davis was told by his boss that the pieces had caused the library concern over his “poor judgment and suitability to serve… not consistent with 'acceptable service'" -- as the letter of admonishment he received put the matter. It referred only to his op-ed and Washington Post letter, and said nothing about his work performance as a researcher. One week later, Davis was fired.

With the help of the ACLU, Davis is suing to get his job back. He will probably win, too since there is a clear precedent, the 1968 Supreme Court case Pickering vs. Board of Education.

What a disgrace that the leaders of Thomas Jefferson's library fire their employees for exercising the rights Jefferson defended so eloquently. I can't even see what is so inflammatory about Davis' piece; he didn't call for prosecution of Cheney and Addington as war criminals (as I have) or denounce America as the Great Satan, he just said the government should not decide what kind of trial to give detainees based on how good the evidence against them is. Fortunately, a man who stood up against the Bush-Cheney torture regime had plenty of guts to stand up to the Librarian of Congress.

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