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 this U.S. Navy base, where a former chief prosecutor and defense lawyers have accused Air Force Brig Gen. Thomas Hartmann —the officer appointed to give impartial legal advice to the Pentagon appointee overseeing the tribunals — of demanding that certain cases be pursued over others based on political considerations.
Judge and Army Col. Steve Hanley 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 to dismiss war crimes charges against Mohammed Jawad.
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 the 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.
Jawad's attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, said the ruling "really affects some of the high-profile cases that Gen. Hartmann has had his hands in."
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 and said he has not offered to resign.
A judge in the trial of another prisoner, Salim Hamdan, disqualified Hartmann from participating in that case.
Hamdan was convicted last week and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, concluding the first Guantanamo war crimes trial.