A military judge on Thursday barred a Pentagon official from taking part in a second war crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay, providing more ammunition for detainee lawyers who allege that political interference taints the proceedings.
The ruling will fuel defense challenges in other trials at the base, where a former chief prosecutor and defense lawyers have accused Air Force Brig Gen. Thomas Hartmann, legal adviser to the tribunals, of demanding that some cases be pursued over others based on political considerations.
The judge, Army Col. Steve Henley, ruled that Hartmann compromised his objectivity in public statements aligning himself with prosecutors and defending the Pentagon's system for prosecuting alleged terrorists.
Hartmann, who was also barred from the first Guantanamo war crimes trial, will not be allowed to provide further advice in the case against an Afghan detainee. But the judge rejected a defense request to dismiss charges against the prisoner, Mohammed Jawad.
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The former chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, testified that Hartmann pushed for Jawad to be charged because the American public would be gripped by details of the case – a grenade attack on two U.S. soldiers and their interpreter in Afghanistan.
“The guy who threw the grenade was always at the top of the list,” Davis said.
Guantanamo's chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said he expects further challenges over Hartmann's role in other cases.
Among those who have challenged Hartmann's involvement in the preparation of charges are lawyers for five men accused in the Sept. 11 attacks, including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The judge also ruled that Frakt can submit exculpatory evidence to the tribunals' top official to review whether the charges against Jawad are warranted – without input from Hartmann.
Hartmann supervises the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo and has extensive powers over the tribunal system. He testified Wednesday that he believed he was doing his job properly.