A month ago, he’d been working at Parris Island, South Carolina, capping a distinguished career during which he’d won more than 95 percent of his cases. He’d recently bought a big house with a huge kitchen and a fountain out back for his wife and two boys-and had begun to turn his attention to finding a civilian job. And then an e-mail pinged his in-box. Copied to a couple of hundred Marine lawyers, it called for applications to help with the military commissions trials at Guantánamo. Montalvo responded impulsively, stirred by the call to duty. Within a couple of hours, he received word. His retirement had been pulled: He was going to Washington, D.C.
The timing was terrible. The real estate market was imploding, the house couldn’t be sold, and Montalvo was forced to leave his family for an indeterminate amount of time. Still, there was worse to come. When he found out he’d been placed on the defense side-when he realized that he’d actually be defending the terrorists-he was stricken. The phone started ringing, colonels he knew on the line repeating the same mantra: “This isn’t going to be good for your career, Major.” Then the call with his parents. On September 11, Montalvo’s uncle Tony had responded with his Harlem fire company to Ground Zero, and Montalvo’s parents believed it was black lung that killed him not long after.
Please don’t do this, Montalvo’s mother told him.