On September 23, 2013, famed defense counsel and Abu Ghraib whistleblower Paul Bergrin was sentenced to multiple life terms as a result of his conviction on murder conspiracy, narcotics distribution and other charges. Bergrin, 57, had represented numerous high profile clients, but is arguably best known for his activities in Iraq where as a JAG lawyer he was one of the first people to expose the systematic torture and human rights abuses at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
Former high profile defense counsel Paul Bergrin was tried and sentenced in response to his whistleblowing at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib.
Bergrin's trial perhaps best stands for the proposition that the current U.S. regime does not take embarrassment lightly. It is an era in which a heralded whistleblower like Daniel Ellsberg would have likely found himself indefinitely detained as a result of his heroic efforts, precisely what Bergrin was facing. The sentencing hearing was conducted by USDJ Dennis Cavanaugh, installed to oversee the case after Bergrin's original trial judge, USDJ William J. Martini, was removed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals for failing to conduct Bergrin's original trial in a manner satisfactory to the government.
The first trial, overseen by Martini, ended with a hung jury. Martini quipped afterwards that had he been on the jury, he would have voted for acquittal. The government immediately sought and ultimately received an order of recusal and had Cavanaugh, a reliably pro-government jurist, installed to oversee the retrial. From that point on the trial's outcome was a foregone conclusion and Bergrin was hastily convicted on all 23 counts for which he was tried.
USDJ William Martini was forcibly removed from Bergrin's criminal proceedings after repeated complaints from government prosecutors.
Previous articles on Bergrin's trial may be seen here:
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As described in the previous articles, Bergrin's trial was a government staged charade, a parade of perjurious witnesses who were well-compensated for their testimony. The government's case against Bergrin centered on the improbable notion that one of New Jersey's top criminal lawyers was actually using his law firm to plan murders and distribute narcotics. Every one of the government's witnesses were caught in numerous and sometimes comical lies, but there is no humor in the tragic outcome of this travesty.
As the defense sought to mitigate the damage, Bergrin's military service, which arguably was the impetus behind the government's zeal to exact retribution, was again an issue at sentencing. The federal sentencing guidelines allow for a downward departure for military service, but Cavanaugh refused to sentence Bergrin accordingly. Despite numerous tours of duty in Iraq, Cavanaugh stated that "nothing in the record distinguishes his military service." He continued "(It) does not rise to the level the sentencing manual suggests. Accordingly, I'm going to deny such consideration."