CRS Fires a Division Chief

12.04.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Director of the Congressional Research Service fired the chief of its Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division after he criticized Obama Administration policy on prosecuting Guantanamo detainees in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month.

Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo who has been at CRS for the past year, argued that current U.S. policy on trying detainees amounted to a double standard.  “The administration must choose,” he wrote in the Journal on November 10. “Either federal courts or military commissions, but not both, for the detainees that deserve to be prosecuted and punished for their past conduct.”

This was too radical a statement for Daniel Mulhollan, the CRS Director, who terminated Mr. Davis effective December 21.  It was a surprising move, for several reasons.  First, Mr. Davis’s op-ed did not identify him as a CRS employee and he was clearly not representing that organization.  To the contrary, he is well-known to have independent standing and expertise to discuss military commissions.  Second, U.S. policy on military commissions is not within the purview of Mr. Davis’s division at CRS and so the possibility that his work there might be biased by his public position would not even arise.

The American Civil Liberties Union was expected to issue a letter today [now available here] urging CRS to reverse its action.  See “Top Congressional Researcher on Afghanistan Fired” by Michael Isikoff, Newsweek Declassified blog, December 3.

Mr. Mulhollan has previously punished some of his organization’s most capable experts for publicly expressing their own professional judgments.  In 2006, a clash between him and Louis Fisher, the former CRS constitutional law expert, led to the departure of the latter, who was quickly hired by the Law Library of Congress.  (“More Turmoil at the Congressional Research Service,” Secrecy News, February 9, 2006.)

New CRS reports not previously made available to the public include the following (both pdf):

“China’s Assistance and Government-Sponsored Investment Activities in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia,” November 25, 2009.

“Venezuela: Issues in the 111th Congress,” November 17, 2009.