Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Court
A judge overseeing war crimes cases in Guantanamo Bay has been dismissed from trial without much in the way of explanation.
A judge hearing a war crimes case at Guantanamo Bay who publicly expressed frustration with military prosecutors’ refusal to give evidence to the defense has been dismissed, tribunal officials confirmed Friday.
Army Col. Peter Brownback III was presiding over the case of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr. Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, in his role as chief judge at Guantanamo, ordered the dismissal without explanation and announced Brownback’s replacement in an e-mail this week to lawyers in Khadr’s case.
Charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism were prepared for Ghassan Abdullah Sharbi, a Saudi with an engineering degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; fellow Saudi Jabran Said bin Qahtani; and Algerian Sufyian Barhoumi. The three are alleged to have attended Al Qaeda training camps and studied bomb-making.
Brownback had threatened to suspend the proceedings against Khadr unless prosecutors handed over Khadr’s medical and interrogation records since his July 2002 capture in Afghanistan.
Khadr’s Navy lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, had asked for the records months ago, and Brownback had ordered the government to produce them.
The lead prosecutor in the Khadr case, Marine Maj. Jeffrey Groharing, this week reiterated to Brownback his view that the defense wasn’t entitled to the records. He urged the judge to set a trial date.
Read the whole thing. Phil Carter has the best analogy for this case.
Imagine if, during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Judge Lance Ito ordered the district attorney’s office to hand over DNA samples and logs of O.J.’s stay in county jail after his arrest. Then imagine that the prosecutors refused to do so. And that, instead of being fined for contempt of court (or thrown in jail themselves), these same prosecutors somehow got their boss to get Ito tossed off the bench. And then the D.A.’s office worked behind the scenes to replace Ito with a more, shall we say, compliant judge.
Wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. Never in a million years. Not even in California.
Well, Cuba isn’t California, and Guantanamo Bay is further still.
Indeed. I don’t know if Khadr is guilty of the war crimes with which he is charged or not. He may well be. But how can anyone trust the judgment of the court if basic principles of process aren’t followed and if defense attorneys aren’t given access to the evidence necessary to build a case?
Update: In the comments below, Bill Dyer links to this article, giving the Pentagon’s official take on Col. Brownback’s dismissal:
Judge Army Col. Peter Brownback was replaced because his duty orders expire later this month, said Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, the chief judge in the U.S. war crimes court at the Guantanamo naval base.
The Pentagon issued a statement on Friday saying Brownback and the Army had mutually decided he would return to retirement when his active-duty orders expire later this month.
But Kohlmann said in statement on Monday that Brownback had been willing to stay on as long as needed. He said the Army declined in February to extend Brownback’s service “based on a number of manpower management considerations” unrelated to the trials.
Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, who is the defense attorney assigned to Khadr, is unconvinced.
Khadr’s lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, called the explanation “odd to say the least,” given that the Defense Department had recently put out a call urging Navy lawyers to volunteer as judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Guantanamo trials, as a national priority assignment.
I would find it easier to believe the Pentagon were it not for the fact that there are quite a few military lawyers speaking out about the political pressure prizing convictions over process. And even if the Pentagon’s statements are correct, that does nothing to change the fact that the prosecutors in the Khadr case are defying a judge’s orders in refusing to turn incriminating evidence over to the defense so that a proper case can be prepared.