Former Gitmo Chief Prosecutor Explains His Departure

It didn't make much news last week when Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, resigned. The articles I read said something about his not being happy that another official,Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, was usurping his power and that Hartmann should remain neutral.

Davis abruptly resigned after complaining that his authority in prosecutions was being usurped. He argued that , a new legal adviser to the convening authority for military commissions, should remain a neutral and independent party and should leave prosecuting cases to prosecutors.

Now, the real reason for his quitting comes out.

Politically motivated officials at the Pentagon have pushed for convictions of high-profile detainees ahead of the 2008 elections, the former lead prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay said last night, adding that the pressure played a part in his decision to resign earlier this month.

Senior defense officials discussed in a September 2006 meeting the "strategic political value" of putting some prominent detainees on trial, said Air Force Col. Morris Davis. He said that he felt pressure to pursue cases that were deemed "sexy" over those that prosecutors believed were the most solid or were ready to go.

...."There was a big concern that the election of 2008 is coming up," Davis said. "People wanted to get the cases going. There was a rush to get high-interest cases into court at the expense of openness."

There was also a disagreement about use of classified evidence at the detainees' trials:

Davis said his resignation was also prompted by newly appointed senior officials seeking to use classified evidence in what would be closed sessions of court, and by almost all elements of the military commissions process being put under the Defense Department general counsel's command, something he believes could present serious conflicts of interest.

Davis said the Pentagon officials over-favored expediency:

He said he felt a sense of expediency over thoroughness was taking hold and that efforts to use classified evidence -- a controversial idea that has drawn congressional concern -- could taint the trials in the eyes of international observers.

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    This could go in different directions (none / 0) (#1)
    by cboldt on Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 07:32:26 AM EST
    Hartmann, as superior, inserted himself into cases he didn't develop, hence the friction.  However, the direction he takes those cases will vary, case by case, and his prioritization will (as you note) be different.

    I've read a number of articles that say Hartmann was disappointed in the lack of high-profile prosecutions, but this is the first time I've seen this translate into a desire to affect an election.

    The more interesting speculation, to me, is that Hartmann may offer plea bargains, and particularly, to Hamdan.  The plea-bargain disposal of high-profile cases won't come off as "tough on terrorists."

    Whats Best For the Country (none / 0) (#2)
    by john horse on Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 07:47:20 PM EST
    re: "Politically motivated officials at the Pentagon have pushed for convictions of high-profile detainees ahead of the 2008 elections..."

    Since when does our military officials make decisions based on political considerations?  One of the strengths of our democracy is that our military stays out of politics.  

    There was a time when government officials made decisions based on what was best for the country, not what best helped their party in the next election.  This is one more example of the corruption that has permeated the federal government under the Bush administration.  

    Yeah (none / 0) (#3)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sun Oct 21, 2007 at 11:20:03 AM EST
    and Operation Desert Fox wasn't political at all.  Holy stopping at the Yalu river, batman!  Not bomb Hanoi?  

    Here's some more on this (none / 0) (#4)
    by scribe on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 11:29:01 AM EST