Friday, September 26, 2008

Gitmo Prosecutor Quits, Cites Gov't Suppression of Evidence

The Guantanamo chief prosecutor in the case of Mohammed Jawad, the first child soldier to be tried as a "war criminal" in modern times, testified for the defense today in the case of -- Mohammed Jawad! Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld quit the prosecution (and the Office of Military Commissions) a few days ago, citing government misconduct and suppression of exculpatory evidence in the case. Apparently, the injustice and mistreatment of Jawad finally touched his humanity.

From AP's story by Mike Melia:
Dressed in Army camouflage fatigues, Vandeveld told the court that he reached a turning point when by happenstance he discovered key evidence among material scattered throughout the prosecutors' office.

Flipping through another case file, he saw for the first time a statement Jawad made to a military investigator probing prisoner abuse in Afghanistan — an episode that helped convert him from a "true believer to someone who felt truly deceived."

Vandeveld said he become gradually disillusioned and even developed sympathy for the defendant, who was captured as a teenager and allegedly subjected to beatings and sleep-deprivation.

"My views changed," said the once hard-charging prosecutor. "I am a father, and it's not an exercise in self-pity to ask oneself how you would feel if your own son was treated in this fashion."
Guantanamo's Chief Prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, is trying to limit the damage, labeling Vandeveld as disgruntled case. But this is not the first prosecutor to quit and call foul on the government, labeling Bush and the Pentagon's showcase military tribunals a farce. Vandeveld is the third such to resign, though he may be the first to then testify for the defense in a case he was prosecuting only days before.

According to an L.A. Times report, Vandeveld was working on a plea agreement for Jawad that would allow the young man to go free, but the government blocked the move. The Times also noted:
The Jawad case is one of several in which the Pentagon's former legal advisor to military commissions, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, has been banned from playing an oversight role because of charges that he lost his neutrality by withholding exculpatory information in recommending the charges.
You'd have to have the intelligence of a Sarah Palin supporter not to see that something very, very rotten is happening in Guantanamo. You have to wonder why, at this point, there hasn't been a mass resignation of government prosecutors over such malfeasance.

Meanwhile, Jawad's attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, is asking for dismissal of charges against Jawad, citing government misconduct, as well as the mistreatment Jawad suffered while under arrest and imprisonment, beginning in Afghanistan, and continuing at Guantanamo Naval Base prison. Maj. Frakt also recently initiated a letter writing and petition campaign on behalf of his client, hoping to convince the Conventing Authority at Guantanamo to drop the charges. The petition gathered hundreds of signatures from around the world.

If Jawad is released -- still a big If -- there are many more waiting to be tried in the "complete farce" that is the military commissions system. Maybe some of these prisoners are guilty of terrible crimes; maybe most of them are innocent. Who would know, as the government holds prisoners indefinitely, to render them hopeless, then uses torture to gain information, elicit confessions, and, finally, according to the sworn testimony of prosecutors from Guantanamo, hides evidence that might prove a defendant innocent?

And what of those left facing trial in this kangaroo court? According to an earlier AP story:
Jawad is one of about 20 detainees facing charges in the Pentagon's specially designed system for prosecuting alleged terrorists. Military prosecutors say they plan trials for about 80 of the 255 men held here on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or the Taliban.
All reasonable and patriotic Americans, all citizens of the world who despise injustice, must speak out for the dropping of charges against Mohammed Jawad, and call for the closing of Guantanamo and a halt to the crooked and discredited military tribunal system. Let the remaining prisoners make their cases through the U.S. court system, which should consider their cases with all deliberate speed.

It's not only politics at this point. It's just plain human decency.

Thank you, Lt. Col. Vandeveld, for taking the courageous path and telling the truth.

(H/T to possum over at Never In Our Names, who wrote his own excellent essay on this story.)

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