United States military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld resigned in late September from his post at the Military Commissions process at Guantanamo Bay. He requested to serve out his time as a called up reservist in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Vandeveld is the fourth Military Commission prosecutor to resign. Previous resignations included that of Air Force Col. Mo Davis, who also resigned over ethical concerns.
Meanwhile, this week a federal judge ordered the Bush administration to release 17 detainees at Guantánamo Bay by the end of the week, the first such ruling in nearly seven years of legal disputes over the administration’s detention policies.
Lt Col Vandeveld’s sworn statement setting out his reasons included qualms about the approach by Military Commission authorities’ attitude to complying with their duty to provide disclosure of relevant information to defence counsel. He was also concerned that the case against boy soldier Mohammed Jawad, was being prosecuted more aggressively than the evidence warranted. Lt Col Vandeveld’s recommendations for a plea offer in the case had been disregarded.
The concern by military prosecutors about the slack attitude to disclosure is ironic in the light of the action brought by former British resident, Binyam Mohamed, in the High Court of Justice. Binyam’s case was the subject of two judgments by Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones in late August.
Binyam’s lawyers brought the action against the British foreign secretary to obtain access to documents that confirmed his story that he had been tortured by or on behalf of US authorities over more than two years in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan and kept incommunicado and without access to a lawyer for most of that period. The US authorities had denied that there was any evidence available to them to suggest that Binyam had been mistreated.
Using principles developed in equity cases, the British Court was prepared, subject to claims for public interest immunity, to order the British foreign secretary to produce the documents to Binyam’s lawyers. To avert such an order, the US Department of State, repeatedly, sent letters promising to provide redacted copies of the documents in Military Commission process.
Subject to two points still unresolved, as at 29 August, the UK Court was prepared to decline to order production because of these undertakings by US authorities.
In their heartfelt guarantees, the State Department wrote:
Because of General Hartmann’s commitment, rule 701 guarantees that the documents will be disclosed to defense counsel by operation of law if the case is referred to trial.
The General Hartmann referred to as the guarantor of proper disclosure is the same General Hartmann who has been ordered, on three separate occasions, not to participate in cases by Military Commission trial judges (including being kicked off the Mohammed Jawad case) because “his aggressive advocacy compromised the objectivity necessary to dispassionately and fairly evaluate the evidence”.
When Defence Department officials, aware that they could not longer cope with General Hartmann’s bullying conduct being made the subject of successful defence applications, they removed him from his job as legal adviser to the Commissions. However, they appointed him to a more senior role as “war-court czar in charge of logistics from the Pentagon to the outpost in southeast Cuba”.
And General Hartmann shows no sense of repentance. Upon being given his new role, he said that his challenge was “to keep the process moving, really intensely.”
“Everybody needs to start seeing more trials,” he said. “I want those courtrooms to be as filled up as they can possibly be, six days a week.”
To erase the public conscience of the horrors of the reality of Guantanamo, the Bush Administration has sought a series of trials to show the fairness of the system and the seriousness of the offenders who have been imprisoned for nearly six years without either charge or prisoner-of-war protection.
Resigning prosecutors, bullying and biased overseers and bungled disclosure are not a good look for a much needed set of show trials. And between David Hicks and Osama Bin Laden’s chauffeur, the defendants have failed to convince that the seriousness of the suspect justified the sacrifice of basic standards of human rights protection and due process.
It’s surprising that the UK Courts or the UK foreign secretary even listened to the assurances from across the Atlantic.