Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pentagon:charges against detainees have political value, no aquittals

Ex-Prosecutor Tells of Push by Pentagon on Detainees

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The former chief prosecutor here took the witness stand on Monday on behalf of a detainee and testified that top Pentagon officials had pressured him in deciding which cases to prosecute and what evidence to use.

The prosecutor, Col. Morris D. Davis of the Air Force, testified that Pentagon officials had interfered with his work for political reasons and told him that charges against well-known detainees “could have real strategic political value” and that there could be no acquittals.

His testimony completed one of the more unusual transformations in the contentious history of Guantánamo. Colonel Davis, who is on active duty as a senior Air Force official and was one of the Pentagon’s most vocal advocates of the Guantánamo military commissions, has become one of the most visible critics of the system.

Testifying about his assertions for the first time, Colonel Davis said a senior Pentagon official who oversaw the military commissions, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann of the Air Force Reserve, reversed a decision he had made and insisted that prosecutors proceed with evidence derived through waterboarding of detainees and other aggressive interrogation methods that critics call torture.

Called to the stand by a Navy defense lawyer and testifying before a military judge, Colonel Davis said General Hartmann directed him last year to push war crimes cases here quickly. He said the general was trying to give the system legitimacy before a new president took office. He testified that General Hartmann referred to the long difficulties the Pentagon had had in operating the military commissions and said, “If we don’t get some cases going before the election, this thing’s going to implode.”

Spokesmen for the Pentagon and General Hartmann declined to comment on Monday, saying that the questioning was continuing before the military judge. In the past, they have said that they disagreed with some of Colonel Davis’s assertions.

The extraordinary testimony featured Colonel Davis, in uniform and perspiring slightly in an air-conditioned courtroom, being cross-examined by his successor, Col. Lawrence J. Morris of the Army. The two uniformed officers faced each other with natural military politeness, giving way occasionally to a brisk question or stiff response.

The awkward moment of one military officer’s taking on another occurred because lawyers for a detainee facing war crimes charges called Colonel Davis to the stand after he had given news interviews criticizing General Hartmann and the running of the military commissions.

The defense lawyers for the detainee, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, once a driver for Osama bin Laden, said Colonel Davis’s contentions amounted to unlawful influence over the prosecution.

In his cross-examination, Colonel Morris did not attack Colonel Davis wholesale. But he had Colonel Davis acknowledge that he had filed the charges against Mr. Hamdan himself and that he never had concerns about any of the charges or the way the evidence was obtained.

In his time as chief prosecutor, Colonel Morris asked, had not Colonel Davis endorsed every specification of every charge against the man prosecutors say helped Mr. bin Laden elude capture after the Sept. 11 attacks?

“I never had any doubts,” Colonel Davis said, “about Mr. Hamdan’s guilt.”.

Although Colonel Davis completed his testimony, the hearing is to continue on Tuesday.

Mr. Hamdan sat quietly as the small drama unfolded Monday afternoon, listening to a Yemeni translation through earphones.

But in the morning, he briefly brought the proceedings to a halt. He appeared in court looking disheveled and obtained permission to address the judge.

His lawyers have said that he is suffering depression and is so warped by years in what they call solitary confinement here that he cannot focus on his case.

“My question is,” Mr. Hamdan said, “the animal has rights or not? But the human being doesn’t have rights?”

For a moment, Mr. Hamdan said he was dismissing his lawyers and rose to leave the courtroom.

The Navy military judge, Keith Allred, said he knew Mr. Hamdan was upset about the conditions of his confinement and reminded him that his lawyers had scheduled a legal challenge on that question that might be heard before the trial is scheduled to begin in late May.

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