Gitmo Terror Suspect Gets 'Least Qualified' Lawyer

But Alaric Piette says he didn't have a choice after terror suspect al-Nashiri's legal team quit
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2018 12:53 PM CST
In this June 7, 2014, file photo, the entrance to Camp 5 and Camp 6 is seen at the US military's Guantanamo Bay detention center, at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.   (AP Photo/Ben Fox, File)

(Newser) – Navy Lt. Alaric Piette acknowledges the "contradiction" of his latest role: to defend a Guantanamo Bay prisoner accused of terrorism and who just a few years back would've been one of Piette's targets. "On another day, I could have easily taken my client out," Piette tells the New York Times, which notes the Navy SEAL who turned attorney just six years ago may also be "the least qualified lawyer" to handle the death penalty case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly organized the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. The Times notes there's never been an attorney with as little experience as Niette standing before the Gitmo military tribunals, and in fact, per tribunal rules, those arguing capital cases are mandated to have experience with such cases—yet the judge in al-Nashiri's case let Piette take on the role for "practicable" reasons.

"A death penalty case is basically going forward without a lawyer," a Hofstra University legal ethics professor says. "If that is what we think passes as a court system, we're in big trouble." How the 39-year-old Piette ended up in this position: Al-Nashiri's longtime defense attorney and two civilian lawyers quit last fall amid a "clandestine ethical conflict," per the Miami Herald; the Times says his legal team found out the government may have been listening in on their conversations with him. Piette himself concedes "there is no way I qualify as learned counsel," but the alternative, he tells the Times, isn't any better. "Leaving the client without a lawyer to protect his rights could be even worse," he says. "I don't know if I've done the right thing, but I don't think I really had a choice." More on this odd situation in the Times. (Read more Guantanamo Bay stories.)

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