Chief judge defends replacement of Guantanamo judge

Mon Jun 2, 2008 9:54pm EDT
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By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - The decision to replace the judge in the Guantanamo trial of a young Canadian prisoner was "completely unrelated" to any ruling or actions by that judge, the tribunals' chief judge said on Monday in a rare public statement.

Judge Army Col. Peter Brownback was replaced because his duty orders expire later this month, said Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, the chief judge in the U.S. war crimes court at the Guantanamo naval base.

Brownback had presided in the case against Omar Khadr, a Canadian captive accused of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.

Kohlmann notified lawyers last week that a new judge had been assigned to the case but did not give a reason, prompting criticism in the United States and Canada.

Khadr's U.S. military defense lawyer suggested Brownback was dismissed because he had made a ruling favorable to the defense, refusing to set a trial date until prosecutors turned over Khadr's prison camp records.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the decision sent a message that the Pentagon "is unwilling to let judges exercise independence if it means a ruling against the government."

The Pentagon issued a statement on Friday saying Brownback and the Army had mutually decided he would return to retirement when his active-duty orders expire later this month.

But Kohlmann said in statement on Monday that Brownback had been willing to stay on as long as needed. He said the Army declined in February to extend Brownback's service "based on a number of manpower management considerations" unrelated to the trials.   Continued...