Defender says advisor exerts illegal sway

Times Staff Writer

The lawyer for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, on Thursday accused U.S. officials of trying to orchestrate war-crimes convictions for election-year political gain.

In his motion for dismissal of the case against Hamdan, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer accused Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann -- legal advisor to the White House official overseeing terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- of exercising “unlawful command influence” over both the prosecution and defense. Lawyers participating in the tribunals are members of the U.S. military, and all are subordinate in rank to Hartmann.

More than a dozen suspected senior Al Qaeda figures are among the 280 prisoners currently at Guantanamo, including self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.


In his 97-page motion, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer cited what he said were inappropriate comments and actions by Hartmann and political appointees in the Guantanamo process -- including its top official, Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority.

Hartmann “has so closely aligned himself with the prosecutorial function that he cannot continue to provide the requisite impartial advice to the convening authority,” Mizer said.

Hartmann did not return messages seeking comment. But a spokesman for the tribunals, Army Maj. Robert D. Gifford, said the general had not seen the motion and would have nothing to say immediately about its allegations.

“While the Office of Military Commissions receives notice of court filings, we are not aware if such a motion has even been filed with the trial court,” Gifford said. “Regardless, the proper place for the resolution of any legal matter is in the courtroom.”

In the last six years, only one case against a detainee at Guantanamo Bay has reached its conclusion. Crawford, who served as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was Defense secretary, in early 2007 facilitated the plea bargain that freed Australian David Hicks.

The move was seen by many as a favor by the Bush administration to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose failure to free Hicks was hampering his reelection battle -- which he eventually lost.


The former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis, quit in October after complaining that Hartmann was bringing political pressure to bear on the legal process.

The motion filed Thursday said that Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes II had effectively ordered Davis to ensure that the terrorism suspects all were found guilty. “We can’t hold these men for six years and have acquittals. We have to have convictions,” Haynes is quoted as saying when Davis mentioned that some defendants at the World War II Nuremberg trials were acquitted.

Hartmann took over as legal advisor in July and immediately began acting as “de facto chief prosecutor,” Mizer wrote in his motion.