General who oversaw military tribunals at Guantanamo is being investigated for abuse of power

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, USAFR, at a press briefing on March 31, 2008.

Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, an officer in the United States Air Force Reserve, is the subject of two new investigations. Both center on whether Hartmann abused his power as the Legal Adviser to the Convening Authority in the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions. He no longer holds this position.

The United States Air Force is conducting an ethics probe after a preliminary investigation concluded that there were sufficient grounds to move forward. The inquiry is investigating allegations that cases which were not ready for trial moved ahead because Hartmann bullied prosecutors and logistics officials.

The other investigation is being conducted by the United States Department of Defense which is looking into complaints by at least two military officials that Hartmann acted in an abusive and retaliatory manner towards them while they served at the Office of Military Commissions.

These probes will "cast doubt on all of the decisions that have been taken under his tenure," predicted Hina Shamsi, who serves as official trial observer at Guantanamo for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Hartmann was recalled to active duty in July 2007 and appointed the Legal Advisor to the civilian official — known as the Convening Authority — in charge of Office of Military Commissions. The position of Convening Authority has been filled by Susan J. Crawford since February 2007. Hartmann's active duty term was to be for a two year term.

The duties of the Legal Advisor to Convening Authority included providing general oversight of the Prosecution and Defense teams, and providing advice to the convening authority when appeals are made.

Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann tours Guantanamo in 2007.

When Hartmann was appointed the Chief Prosecutor, Colonel Morris Davis was on medical leave. Hartmann was dissatisfied with the process of the commissions. In the nine months since the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 only three captives had been charged. Hartmann is reported to have intervened in the operation of the Prosecution, pressuring Prosecutors to initiate charges against the captives suspected of being the more senior members of al-Qaeda.

When Davis returned from his medical leave, he and Hartmann clashed. Davis felt Hartmann had improperly over-stepped his assigned duties, usurping his own role.

Davis reported that his approach had been to charge captives whose trials could be conducted without access to secret evidence, and without access to evidence coerced through the use of torture or questionable interrogation techniques.

Do you believe Brigadier General Hartmann abused power?

In October 2007, Davis went public and suggested that both he and Hartmann resign from the Office of Military Commissions. A military inquiry at the time censured Davis, who did resign from the Office of Military Commissions, and has subsequently testified against Hartmann.

The Presiding Officers of three of the Military Commissions heard testimony from Hartmann and eventually barred him from participation in the cases before them, because they believed he had exercised "illegal command influence".

Stephen R. Henley — the Presiding Officer of Mohammed Jawad's commission, who barred Hartmann from further participation — wrote on August 14, 2008:

"...a Legal Advisor's post trial responsibilities necessitate he act in a quasi-judicial role; one where he must remain neutral and unbiased. The Commission finds the current Legal Advisor's editorial writings and interviews defending the military commissions' system combined with his active and vocal support of and desire to manage the military commissions process and public statements appearing to directly align himself with the prosecution team have compromised the objectivity necessary to dispassionately and fairly evaluate the evidence and prepare the post trial recommendation."

After Colonel Patrick Parrish barred Hartmann from participation in Omar Khadr's commission, Hartmann's subordinate was promoted to replace him. Hartmann was moved to a new position, where he served over the Prosecution. Pentagon officials described it as a lateral move. Air Force officials described it as a promotion.

On November 2, 2008 Carol Rosenberg, writing in the Miami Herald, reported that Hartmann had filed a request to retire from the Air Force on 17 February 2008. Hartmann's superior at the Pentagon, William J. Haynes, had announced his resignation in February.