Guantanamo trials official is reassigned
The Pentagon transferred a controversial senior official involved in overseeing the war-crimes trials at Guantanamo Bay into a new position Friday, 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 had 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 Friday that Hartmann will remain involved as director of operations, planning and development for military commissions. His deputy, Michael Chapman, will become the new legal advisor.
“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 advisor to the convening authority, Susan J. Crawford, a Pentagon lawyer whose role is 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 protege he helped elevate to the presidency.
Lt. Cmdr. William C. 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: “We are going to produce fair, open and just trials.”
Attorneys for some of the most high-profile defendants at Guantanamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is accused of being the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are still seeking to have the charges against their clients dismissed because of Hartmann’s actions.