Washington, DC (Nov. 3, 2017) – Today, shortly before a court proceeding in U.S. District Court before Judge Royce Lamberth challenging a contempt finding against Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, Chief Defense Counsel for the Military, the government ordered deferment of General John Baker's detention and his immediate release. On November 1, 2017, General Baker had been held in contempt by Military Judge Spath and sentenced to 21 days confinement in his quarters and a $1,000 fine. In today's court proceeding, Judge Lamberth commended the military's decision to release General Baker and agreed to afford the military commission Convening Authority a reasonable opportunity to review the matter further. The Convening Authority has said it will review both General Baker's conviction and his sentence, and General Baker has 20 days to provide his comments. The Court has also asked for General Baker's counsel, Barry J. Pollack, to file a motion if a reasonable period of time passes without the Convening Authority taking further action.
Barry J. Pollack, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) Immediate Past President and a member of the law firm Miller & Chevalier, who entered the case at the behest of NACDL's Lawyers' Assistance Strike Force, said: "General Baker's conviction of contempt and his confinement are unlawful orders that have no factual basis. My hope is the Convening Authority will act promptly to set aside the contempt finding and sentence. If it does not, we will ask Judge Lamberth to issue an order finding the contempt order to be unlawful."
NACDL President Rick Jones stated: "The military commissions are seriously flawed. In the face of repeated instances of attorney-client privilege violations, having the temerity to punish defense lawyers for doing their job is a new low. General Baker should have his conviction vacated immediately."
General Baker was held in contempt after his determination on October 13, 2017, that there was good cause to allow the withdrawal of three civilian members of the defense team in the case of United States v. Nashiri due to concerns that the government compromised attorney-client confidentiality.
United States v. Nashiri is the trial of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Tuesday, Baker refused to testify and to rescind his order allowing the withdrawal of Mary Spears, Rosa Eliades, and Learned Counsel Richard Kammen. NACDL, which has a long history of supporting defense counsel at the military commissions, has stepped in to provide strike force representation for General Baker. Court papers (available here, here, and here) were filed yesterday, November 2, 2017, in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking Baker's immediate release from confinement. An initial hearing was held in Judge Lamberth's courtroom late afternoon yesterday.
NACDL has long been concerned about attorney-client privilege at Guantanamo, as reflected, for example, in its 2012 NACDL ethics opinion. Previous NACDL statements on Guantanamo and attorney-client communications can be found here, here, here, and here.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.