Guantanamo Trials' Overseer Reassigned
Saturday, September 20, 2008
The Pentagon transferred a controversial senior official involved in overseeing the war-crimes trials at Guantanamo Bay into a new position yesterday, a move that was anticipated after military judges in three separate cases barred Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann from further participation in various aspects of the military commissions.
Defense officials, who would discuss the reassignment only on the condition of anonymity, said Hartmann's position became untenable after judges ruled that he improperly influenced prosecutors by pressing them to move to trial quickly and, over their objections, used evidence obtained from interrogations that involved coercive techniques. Legal disputes over Hartmann's role threatened to delay trials that the Bush administration wants to see up and running.
The Defense Department said in a statement yesterday that Hartmann will remain involved as director of operations, planning and development for military commissions. His deputy, Michael Chapman, will become the new legal adviser.
"Gen. Hartmann has driven the commissions process forward since his arrival in July 2007," Daniel J. Dell'Orto, acting general counsel at the Pentagon, said in a statement. "In no small part because of his efforts and his dedication, the commissions are an active, operational legal system."
Hartmann was the legal adviser to the Convening Authority, a Pentagon office that is required to exercise a neutral role in the commissions, overseeing but not dictating the work of prosecutors and allocating resources to both the prosecution and defense.
Military defense lawyers, human rights groups and a former lead prosecutor expressed dismay that Hartmann will remain in a position that they say will allow him to continue influencing cases.
"Elevating his deputy and leaving him in the process, I'm afraid, will be like the Vladimir Putin-Dmitry Medvedev relationship where there's some real doubt over who pulls the strings," said Col. Morris Davis, a former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, drawing a parallel to the Russian prime minister and the protégé he helped elevate to the presidency.
Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, military defense counsel for Canadian defendant Omar Khadr, said in a statement that "Hartmann's reassignment should be seen for what it is -- a thin veneer for what amounts to being fired for his excessive and unlawful interference in the military commissions process."
Human Rights Watch said that "instead of trying to clean up house, the Pentagon has now moved a man accused of bullying prosecutors to bring cases to trial and dismissing concerns about evidence being tainted by torture into a position coordinating all matters relating to the commissions."
Hartmann dismissed the criticism, saying: "We are going to produce fair, open and just trials."
Attorneys for some of the most high-profile defendants at Guantanamo Bay, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged operational mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are still seeking to have the charges against their clients dismissed because of Hartmann's actions. That is unlikely to happen, defense attorneys said, but the cases could be delayed by another ruling against Hartmann, which would be a blow to an administration in its final months.
Hearings on various issues will be held next week at Guantanamo Bay, including a discovery motion on Hartmann's role in the Mohammed case.
Hartmann said the recent court rulings forced him and others at the Pentagon to think about his role at the commissions, but he said they were not the reason for his new assignment. He said that after the "explosive growth of the commissions over the last 10 or 12 months," he and his superiors thought that the "best way to run the system was to take this more senior leadership position."