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Pentagon moves embattled Gitmo legal official

The Pentagon reassigned a senior member of the Guantanamo war-crimes trials team Friday after defense lawyers, human rights groups and military colleagues accused him of misconduct
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Pentagon reassigned a senior member of the Guantanamo war-crimes trials team Friday after defense lawyers, human rights groups and even military colleagues accused him of misconduct in his role as legal adviser.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann was named to the newly created position of director of operations, planning and development for military commissions, as the trials are called.

The new job takes Hartmann away from direct supervision of the prosecution. The former chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, and others had accused the general of pushing for prosecutions that would captivate the public for political gain, even before the detainees were ready to be charged.

A top Guantanamo official, Army Gen. Gregory Zanetti, has called Hartmann "abusive, bullying and unprofessional," and two military judges barred Hartmann from acting as a legal adviser in cases before them, saying he was not neutral as required by the Military Commissions Act. A judge in a third case this month limited Hartmann's role, saying he had "created the appearance that he will be unable to remain neutral and impartial."

In his new role, Hartmann is in charge of such activities as the hiring of dozens of lawyers and paralegals and ensuring there are adequate resources for the massive legal undertaking. The military says it plans to put up to 80 men held at the U.S. base in Cuba on trial. Twenty-one men are currently charged.

'An elevation'
In an interview, Hartmann put his transfer in a positive light.

"I feel like it's an elevation, a promotion, because it recognizes ... the exponential growth of the commissions," Hartmann said.

Defense lawyers had been expected to seek Hartmann's removal from other cases before the military court, which would have further delayed the terrorism prosecutions.

Daniel Dell'Orto, the Defense Department's acting general counsel, credited Hartmann for driving the commissions process forward since his arrival last year.

"In no small part because of his efforts and his dedication, the commissions are an active, operational legal system," Dell'Orto said.

He added that Hartmann was appointed to the new position because of the need to oversee an increase in cases and personnel.

Military defense lawyers welcomed the transfer but said the Pentagon did not go far enough.

"He is still able to monkey around quite a bit," said Michael Berrigan, deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo trials. "It's just trying to give a fig leaf to the improper conduct of Gen. Hartmann."

Called a 'cancer'
Davis, the former chief prosecutor who resigned last year after clashing with Hartmann, called the Air Force general a "cancer" that had compromised the military commissions.

"The only way to ensure cancer can do no harm is to get it out of the body," Davis said.

Jennifer Daskal, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, criticized the Pentagon move.

"Instead of trying to clean house the Pentagon has now moved a man accused of bullying prosecutors to bring cases to trial and dismissing concerns about evidence being tainted by torture into a position coordinating all matters relating to the commissions," she said.

Hartmann said he is proud of the way he has helped move the trials forward and intends to keep doing so in his new role.

"We are not going to wilt under pressure," he said.

His deputy, Michael Chapman, becomes the new legal adviser.