At issue is the role of a Pentagon office called the “convening authority,” which oversees the military prosecutors and has extensive power over the defense lawyers and judges in the cases against Guantánamo detainees. One role of that office is to be a neutral arbiter, deciding such matters as allocation of resources for both the defense and prosecution and which charges brought by prosecutors should go to trial.
But military defense lawyers and other critics have said officials running that office have overstepped the bounds of impartiality by pushing prosecutors to charge more detainees and to use evidence obtained under coercive interrogations.
Lawyers said the ruling set the stage for new challenges that could slow even the administration’s highest priority Guantánamo prosecution, against six detainees for the 2001 terrorist attacks. One of the six is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-professed planner of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
“The military judge has said that, at the very least, there are grave appearance problems with this system,” said Michael J. Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantánamo cases.
The judge, … Navy captain [Keith J. Allred], provided the critics with pages of new material to underscore their attacks on the system. He said he accepted accusations by a former Guantánamo chief prosecutor, Col. Morris D. Davis, that a military official with broad powers over the tribunal system, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, had exerted improper influence over the prosecutors.
“Telling the chief prosecutor (and other prosecutors),” the decision said, “that certain types of cases would be tried and that others would not be tried, because of political factors such as whether they would capture the imagination of the American people, be sexy, or involve blood on the hands of the accused, suggests that factors other than those pertaining to the merits of the case were at play.”
Why are we undecided about whether to be surprised? We’re not surprised, because as anyone who has read about these Guantanamo tribunal cases (and has even the slightest sense of fairness) knows, the administration’s military commissions system is fundamentally unfair to the accused. We’re surprised, because it seems that the administration’s stone-wall against fairness in these commissions is starting to crack. But we’re not surprised, because we have faith in the American legal system and that competent, conscientious lawyers trained in it will be unable to continue the fraudulent manipulation of public opinion, and these commissions, for its own political purposes.
Congratulations to Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, a stand-up guy who has had enough and has the courage of his convictions.