Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Pentagon seeks lawyers for Guantanamo detainees


Have a law degree? Willing to work for low pay in an exotic locale? Then Uncle Sam wants you.

The Pentagon is trying to recruit civilians to serve as defense lawyers for terrorist suspects in its military tribunals at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. US President George W. Bush has yet to single out any prisoner from Afghanistan for a tribunal, but the Pentagon has been preparing for one anyhow. The suspects will be provided military defense lawyers but can also ask for civilian lawyers. So far, no one has applied.

The Pentagon has named Air Force Colonel Will Gunn as the acting chief defense counsel. At a briefing Thursday, Gunn said he had not volunteered for the post. Moreover, while a couple of military lawyers had made inquiries, he had so far received no applications from civilian lawyers.

"When I was contacted about taking on this position, I immediately recognized that the glamor position here was that of the chief prosecutor -- that was the opportunity to be America's hero," said Gunn, 44, who served most recently as executive assistant to the Air Force judge advocate general.

The post of acting chief prosecutor has been assigned to Colonel Frederic Borch III, a career Army lawyer who supervised the successful prosecutions of 13 drill sergeants accused of sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1997. Borch apparently has no dearth of uniformed lawyers eager to join the prosecution, though he declined to specify the size of his team.

Finding defense lawyers will be trickier. Don Rehkopf, a Rochester lawyer who is co-chairman of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' military law committee, said in a telephone interview that the military rules were so stacked against the defense that few civilian lawyers would want to apply.

"It would be unethical for any attorney to agree to the conditions they've set," he said. "You have to agree to waive the attorney-client privilege so that the government can monitor your conversations."

There is also the matter of defending people who may have had roles in the Sept. 11 attacks. Gunn said he decided it was his duty to accept that challenge.

"We believe in this country, and we believe in what this country espouses as its key values," he said, including a defendant's innocence until proven guilty.

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