Seventh Guantanamo Prosecutor resigns over ethical issues

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a prosecutor in the Guantanamo Military Commissions resigned Wednesday, citing ethical issues.

Vandeveld had recommended to his superiors that a plea bargain be offered to Mohammed Jawad, the Pakistani youth he was prosecuting. He felt that it was appropriate for Jawad to receive an early release, and be offered assistance in re-integrating into civilian life. His superiors had over-ruled him, and wanted to seek a life sentence.

Vandeveld has not spoken publicly about his concerns. Jawad's defense counsel, David Frakt, plans to call upon him to testify that the Prosecution had been withholding potentially exculpatory evidence.

Jawad was a minor at the time of the incident; Jawad had been subjected to sleep deprivation through Guantanamo's frequent flyer program; Jawad had testified, during his 2004 Combatant Status Review Tribunal that he had accepted a job clearing land mines, only to have his employers drug him, and use him to carry objects he was later informed were bombs. Two other individuals had confessed to throwing the grenade Jawad was being tried for throwing. Their confessions had been withheld from Jawad's Defense counsel.

Although his four-page resignation letter has not been officially released, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, and other journalists have quoted from it.

Vandeveld wrote:

"My ethical qualms about continuing to serve as a prosecutor relate primarily to the procedures for affording defense counsel discovery. I am highly concerned, to the point that I believe I can no longer serve as a prosecutor at the Commissions, about the slipshod, uncertain 'procedure' for affording defense counsel discovery."

Current Chief Prosecutor Colonel Lawrence Morris asserted: “All you have is somebody who is disappointed that his superiors did not agree with his recommendation in a case.”

Four Prosecutors resigned in 2004 over scandalous promises made by Chief Prosecutor Fred Borch. Three of Borch's subordinates wrote letters to Borch's superiors, asking to be reassigned from the Office of Military Commissions because Borch had told them: All the exculpatory evidence would be classified, so the suspect's Defense counsel would never get to see it; All the Commission members who would be serving as the judges were to be picked from officers who could be counted on voting for conviction.

Do you find the actions at Guantanamo Bay necessary or unethical? Or both?

Robert Preston, John Carr, Carrie Wolf were reassigned. Fred Borch resigned from the military. Thomas Hemingway, Legal Advisor to the Convening Authority, the civilian head of the Office of Military Commissions, asserted that Borch's resignation was unconnected to the memos from his subordinates. Borch was subsequently rehired as a civilian after he resigned from the military.

In 2005 Stuart Couch resigned from prosecuting Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Couch stated that even though he suspected Slahi had played a role in activities that otherwise were triable offenses, he should no longer be tried, because he had been subjected to extreme interrogation techniques.

In 2007 Guantanamo third Chief Prosecutor, Morris Davis, resigned after publicly challenging the role Legal Advisor Thomas W. Hartmann was trying to play in choosing cases to try. Davis had argued that choosing the cases to prosecute was his role, and that Hartmann had an obligation to remain objective, because he was also supposed to give advise to the head of the Office of Military Commission about the performance of the Defense. Hartmann's role required him to give objective advice after the Commissions made their rulings -- and his objectivity would be in doubt.

An inquiry looked into Davis's concern, and directed Davis to follow Hartmann's orders. Davis resigned from the Office of Military Commissions shortly thereafter.

Hartmann was called to testify before three of the Military Commissions, over his role in choosing cases to prosecute, where he testified he thought he was doing his job, and where he stated that he refused to resign.

Hartmann was reassigned a more junior role on September 20, 2008.