GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A U.S. general described by colleagues as a bully was barred on Thursday from further involvement in the war crimes trial of a young Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo, the second time the legal advisor has been blocked from a case.
The judge also ordered that the attempted murder charges against defendant Mohammed Jawad, 23, be sent back to the Pentagon official overseeing the tribunals for revalidation.
But the judge refused to drop the charges against Jawad, who is accused of throwing a grenade into a U.S. military jeep at a bazaar in Kabul in December 2002, wounding two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter.
Jawad’s military lawyers said the charges should be thrown out because they were tainted by unlawful influence from Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the officer appointed to give impartial legal advice to the Pentagon appointee overseeing the war crimes tribunals at the U.S. military base in Cuba.
The judge said there was evidence Hartmann “desired to control the entire operation” but that the decision to charge Jawad was made independently by an acting chief prosecutor.
Still, he said Hartmann’s public statements aligning himself with the prosecution had compromised his ability to act impartially in an appeals process if Jawad is convicted.
Hartmann’s ouster from Jawad’s case highlights some of the fractures within the U.S. military regarding a tribunal process condemned by human rights advocates as rigged to convict and politically driven. Several of those involved have said they were pressured to get high-profile cases moving before the November U.S. presidential election.
The ruling came a day after another U.S. general testified that Hartmann was “abusive, bullying and unprofessional” and tried to dictate what charges would be filed. The former chief military prosecutor testified that Hartmann demanded “sexy” cases and moved Jawad’s to the front of the line.
Hartmann acknowledged telling prosecutors he wanted cases that would “capture the public’s imagination,” but that he was trying to get the trials moving in a fair and transparent manner.
He had earlier been barred from the case against Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, who was convicted last week at Guantanamo of providing support for terrorism.
Hamdan’s case was the first full trial since the United States began sending more than 750 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners to Guantanamo in January 2002. The Pentagon plans to try as many as 80 of the 265 remaining detainees.
Defense lawyers in the case of Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr also want his charges dropped because of what they called illegal influence by Hartmann. Khadr is accused of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan.
In the Jawad case, defense lawyers said Hartmann failed to turn over defense documents to Susan Crawford, the Pentagon appointee who oversees the trials and validates charges for prosecution. They said the documents outlined mitigating circumstances that might have altered her decision to endorse the charges.
The judge ordered the documents to be sent to Crawford along with other potentially exculpatory information, and that she again review the charges against Jawad. She could drop or reduce them.
“For the first time, she will be presented with a balanced portrait of the facts and the circumstances of this case,” said Jawad’s military defense lawyer, Air Force Maj. David Frakt.
Among the mitigating factors, he said, were that Jawad was 16 or 17 when captured, had no links to al Qaeda, had been drugged by Afghans who recruited him for a purported mine-clearing operation, and was one of three people who confessed to throwing the same grenade.
He presented testimony that Jawad was beaten and chained to the wall while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan then subjected to extreme isolation and sleep deprivation at Guantanamo even after the sleep deprivation program was ordered halted.
Editing by Jim Loney and Vicki Allen