Tag Archives: David Gespass

David Gespass to speak on police militarization and misconduct at University of Arkansas Fayetteville

David Gespass

David Gespass

The University of Arkansas Student Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild will present a talk by MLTF member David Gespass on November 18. The title of the talk is “When the Thin Blue Line Becomes Delta Force: Rights in the Crosshairs” and it will address police militarization, police misconduct and human rights, both in the US and abroad.

Gespass has written an opinion piece for this website, “Locals have no love for occupying armies, whether in Baghdad or Ferguson” which addressed the events in Ferguson, Missouri, surrounding the killing of Michael Brown there in August of this year.

He had this to say about the topic of his talk:

With increased militarization, the police become more of an occupying force, hostile to the community and serving other hostile forces. Internationally, it’s US imperialism. Within the country, it’s the monopolists. And, when you get right down to it, they are just different names for the same things and people. I’d note that the rising repression in poor communities, especially communities of color and, most especially, poor African-American communities, corresponds to increasing disparity in wealth and greater hopelessness that people can actually make progress through hard work. The result is that there is more of a threat of rebellion and a need to suppress the threat ever more with the stick rather than the carrot.

David began his law practice in Washington, DC, in 1971; his current practice at Gespass and Johnson, a firm established with his wife Kathy Johnson, also an MLTF member, is located in Birmingham, Alabama.

Mr. Gespass’ considerable accomplishments include:

  • In the 1970s, he worked in Yokosuka and Okinawa, Japan, with the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Office, where he assisted US Marines in resisting the Vietnam War.
  • He is the immediate past president of the National Lawyers Guild.
  • He served as editor-in-chief of the Guild Practitioner (now NLG Review), the Guild’s intellectual journal.
  • He was a founder, and serves on the steering committee, of the Military Law Task Force and has been a member of the advisory board of the National Police Accountability Project since its founding in 1999.
  • He’s a member of the organizing committee for the Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference, to be held in Savannah, Georgia, December 12-14, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he will be teaching a course in human rights during the upcoming term.

Op-Ed: Military Sexual Violence rooted in military culture

Curbing Convening Authority Power to Alter Court-Martial Convictions Is No Solution, Is Insufficient and Misses the Point

David Gespass

David Gespass

By David Gespass

There is no denying that “sexual assault” (a euphemism for rape and attempted rape) is a serious problem within the military. Indeed, it has always been a problem, though it may now be more serious from the point of view of military authorities because victims, increasingly, are other members of the armed forces rather than civilians.

To date, the solutions that have been proposed are, from the military, more training and, from various civilians (most notably, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand), stripping convening authorities of their power to alter court-martial convictions and sentences. The former has been spectacularly unsuccessful. The latter highlights the tension between two important ends, those of protecting people from sexual violence and protecting the due process rights of individuals accused of crime.

Thus far, there has been near universal acknowledgment that the problem exists but little has been done to address, much less solve, it. Indeed, even as sexual violence appears epidemic, elected officials tie themselves in knots praising our men and women in uniform while, at the same time, condemning perpetrators of such violence yet refusing even to consider that the culture of the armed forces promotes it. This is not to say that everyone who enlists is bound to become a predator. Rather, the soil of military culture is one in which potential predators can be nourished and thrive. And our elected officials are loath to suggest such a thing for fear of being criticized as disparaging “our” troops.

National Lawyers Guild Submits Comments for Improving Military Justice System to Department of Defense Military Justice Review Group

NEW YORK — The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) today submitted comments to the Defense Department’s Military Justice Review Group as part of its comprehensive review of the military justice system. Recommendations to improve the system include eliminating the “convening authority” as the near-absolute final arbiter of what constitutes justice in a given case. The NLG also calls for eliminating criminal liability for acts that are purely military offenses, and for clarifying the effect of a conviction by summary court-martial.

“We are gratified that this review is taking place, as changes in the court martial system are long overdue. We do not believe that anything less than a complete restructuring of the way the military handles offenses can be adequate. We have, therefore, focused on large changes, rather than the many small details that could lead to some incremental improvement without altering the basic inequities that lead so many to see military justice as an oxymoron, said David Gespass, NLG past president and one of the authors of the comments.

David Gespass’ presentation on Bradley Manning

MLTF co-founder David Gespass recently gave a talk at Tulane University. Here’s the slide presentation on the Bradley Manning case he used. He compares the current reaction to Manning to the COINTELPRO revelations in 1971. Hint: 2013 doesn’t stack up well.

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The Bradley Manning Case: Executive Power vs. Citizens’ Rights

An Op-Ed for MLTF by NLG President David Gespass

The epic Bradley Manning prosecution – now involving two years of pretrial confinement during which the Constitution presumes him innocent while the administration, the Army and the media do all they can to render that presumption null and void – is emblematic of the changes that the United States has undergone during my sentient lifetime. Sad to say, current trends do not bode well, as the balance between “national security” and the people’s right to know the machinations of government is tipping ever more precipitously in favor of the former.

It is almost inevitable that, once one president asserts some claim of executive privilege, however bogus, succeeding presidents, regardless of pledges of openness and transparency, will seek to expand it. Richard Nixon unsuccessfully claimed privilege in refusing to turn over his White House tapes, but that did not stop Bill Clinton from raising similar claims when trying to quell the storm over Monica Lewinsky.

But those claims had to do with personal wrongdoing on the parts of the presidents. Following 9/11, the claims have had to do with the work of government. The assertions of privilege by George W. Bush and Barack Obama reflect efforts to keep citizens from being informed of the most important functions of government. President Obama, following his promise of a more open and transparent administration, has taken the assertion of executive privilege to unprecedented lengths. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed, in the wake of the assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki, that “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process” and that the secret process whereby the President decides who should live and who should die, with neither explanation nor review, is all that is now due.

That such a claim can even be made with a straight face and given any measure of credence demonstrates how far from constitutional values and the rule of law the United States has drifted over the past 40 years. Even worse, perhaps, is that the resistance to such assertions of executive authority is almost absent in the media and has not been taken up as a cause célèbre among broad swaths of the population. That is not to say that no one has spoken out. Rather, presidential claims of such unrestricted authority, which not that long ago would have been given no credence, now enjoy broad appeal and are questioned with distressing infrequency.

Take, for instance, the case of PFC Manning, who is facing charges tantamount to treason for allegedly releasing classified information often embarrassing to the government and which, in some cases, has provided evidence of possible war crimes. Manning is facing life in prison with no end in sight to his pretrial confinement, several months of which were in solitary. Because of the problems his defense lawyers have had getting relevant information from the prosecution, no trial date can even be set, much less assured. While many of us have defended the things Manning is alleged to have done, there has hardly been a wellspring of support for him. Worse, there has been little condemnation of the government for the things he is alleged to have revealed.

By contrast, when the Pentagon Papers were revealed in 1971 and published in The New York Times, the men who shone the light on them, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, enjoyed widespread support that made their prosecutions difficult. Ultimately, the espionage cases against them were dismissed because of government misconduct, but it cannot be gainsaid that the favor in which they were held by many, if not most, Americans was a major factor in their ultimate victory.

Even more remarkable is the case of the unknown burglars who exposed the FBI’s notorious Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). The few members of this band broke into a small FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They found evidence of illegal FBI surveillance and dirty tricks which they promptly turned over to the news media. The ensuing scandal was not about people who unquestionably acted illegally, but over the greater illegality of COINTELPRO. No serious effort was ever made to identify the burglars, much less to prosecute them. All the fire was directed at the FBI.

One must ask, why has Bradley Manning been treated so differently? Any number of factors may be at play. First, he allegedly turned over his information, not to established media giants like  The New York Times and The Washington Post, but to Wikileaks. Could it be possible that the mass media did not assign as much significance to his case because they were not directly affected or subject to government response? After all, the Times had to defend its publication of the Pentagon Papers up to the Supreme Court.

Moreover, times have changed. While government is under attack as being bloated and intrusive in so many areas, its authority to wage war, legally or otherwise, following September 11, has not been questioned. There was hardly a peep from the mass media questioning the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, even though those claims were disputed by weapons inspectors and, as to a nuclear arsenal, deemed unfounded by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

For too many, fear of “terrorism” has overcome devotion to civil liberties. Indeed, in the highest echelons of government, “terrorism” has become the bogeyman that justifies anything, however illegal and antithetical to fundamental human rights standards. It is the ace that trumps all criticism. If patriotism, as Samuel Johnson said, is the last resort of the scoundrel, then the sham justification of every infringement on liberty as “defense of the homeland from terrorism” is the foundation on which that resort is built in today’s United States. And that resort is a political Club Med, where wealth and power meet to make themselves wealthier and more powerful at the expense of the rest of the world.

Bradley Manning is not being prosecuted because his alleged actions damaged the United States, but because they exposed the damage being done to the United States and its people by those who purport to act on their behalf. The government can blithely ignore, or pay blood money for, the death and destruction it wreaks around the world, but since sunlight is the best disinfectant, it  will do all it can to keep its infectious practices in a dark cellar.

David Gespass is the president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a founding member of its Military Law Task Force. An attorney in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama, he is also an adjunct professor at University of Alabama School of Law.