Lawyer in Afghan case objects to background check

May 3, 2012, 11:25 PM

Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) – The lead civilian lawyer for a U.S. soldier accused of massacring 17 Afghan villagers in March doesn’t want to undergo a background check.

Seattle attorney John Henry Browne wrote in emails to The Associated Press on Thursday that the Army has requested that he and all civilian members of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ defense team undergo the check to obtain security clearances for reviewing any classified evidence.

That’s standard when classified evidence may be at issue in a case, said Lt. Col Gary Dangerfield, a spokesman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Bales is based. But Browne said it is troubling that to protect his client’s legal rights, he and his associates would be subject to intrusive vetting by the government.

Bales also has assigned military lawyers who already have security clearances.

“This is an example of how much we have lost civil liberties, the prosecution gets to `clear’ the defense lawyer,” he wrote. “Can we ask the prosecutors personal questions, check with their neighbors, and ask about mental health, alcohol or drug problems?”

Browne noted he’d need extra space on the form to write about all seven of his marriages.

“Most offensive are personal facts about mental health, alcohol and drug use, voluntary counseling and in and out patient treatment EVER,” he wrote. “For God’s sake I did live in and through the `60s, `70s and `80s!!!!”

Browne, who played bass for a rock band in college, said he had nothing to hide _ “My skeletons are not in the closet, they are on the front lawn!” But on principle, he did not think he would submit to the background check.

“They say they WILL contact neighbors now and in the past as well as friends (they want details) and family members,” he wrote. “One of my family members is seriously mentally ill, why do I have to violate her privacy?”

Bales, 38, a father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of walking off the base where he was deployed in southern Afghanistan with a 9 mm pistol and M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher. Officials say he walked to two local villages, where he killed four men, four women, two boys and seven girls, and then burned some of their bodies.

Dan Conway, a civilian lawyer and former Marine who has handled several prominent military cases, said he understood some of Browne’s objections to undergoing a background check. He said he typically trusts his military co-counsel to review classified evidence to determine whether it’s worth pushing the government to declassify it. As a last resort, he said, he will go through the background check and obtain a clearance.

“The biggest concern is this: You don’t want to have to censor yourself with the media because the government has unnecessarily exposed you to classified information,” Conway said. “If I can do anything to avoid looking like I’ve disclosed classified information, which can be a crime, I’m going to do that.”

But another civilian attorney who specializes in military cases, Colby Vokey, said he believed Browne had a duty to undergo the background check, even though it’s a “royal pain.” Vokey said he wouldn’t feel comfortable relying on military co-counsel to evaluate classified evidence.

“I think he has a duty to review anything that’s relevant,” Vokey said. “If you’re the lead counsel in a case with national security implications, like Bales, you’ve got a duty to get that clearance.”


Johnson can be reached at

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

Lawsuit challenges Florida ban on gender-affirming care

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Four families challenging Florida’s prohibition against puberty-blocking hormones and gender-affirming surgeries for minors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against state health officials. The lawsuit filed in Tallahassee federal court against Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and the state boards of medicine and osteopathic medicine claims the ban violates the equal protection […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Wisconsin man pleads guilty to intimidating Black neighbors

WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin man has pleaded guilty Thursday to intimidating and interfering with Black residents who moved into a suburban Milwaukee apartment complex where he lived. William McDonald of West Allis faces up to 11 years in prison when he is sentenced on June 29, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Judge allows anonymous jury for Trump rape lawsuit trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors’ names will be kept secret at the upcoming civil trial in a writer’s rape lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, a judge ruled Thursday, citing “a very strong risk” they would otherwise face harassment and more. Anonymous juries are unusual, particularly outside criminal cases. The Associated Press and the Daily […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Court weighs release of records in Sanford child porn probe

BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — Attorneys took their fight over whether to unseal more documents in the 2019 child pornography investigation of billionaire banker and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford to the South Dakota Supreme Court on Thursday. Sanford is seeking to bar the release of affidavits used to issue search warrants in the case. But the […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Jamaican cleric sentenced to 18 years in NY terrorism case

NEW YORK (AP) — A cleric arrested in his native Jamaica and extradited to New York to face state terrorism charges on accusations of recruiting support for the Islamic State group was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison. Abdullah el-Faisal was convicted in January in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on counts including soliciting […]
16 hours ago
Dozens of protesters chanted for and against a bill that would make Minnesota a trans refuge state,...
Associated Press

Minnesota moves to strengthen status as ‘trans refuge state’

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House was moving Thursday toward strengthening the state’s protections for children and their families who come for gender-affirming care by making Minnesota a “trans refuge state,” bucking a national backlash against transgender rights. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order two weeks ago to protect the rights […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo: OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center)...

Here’s what you need to know about OCD and where to find help

It's fair to say that most people know what obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders generally are, but there's a lot more information than meets the eye about a mental health diagnosis that affects about one in every 100 adults in the United States.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Lawyer in Afghan case objects to background check