Carol Rosenberg, Jason Leopold, Charlie Savage, and Ryan Reilly all have updates on the Gitmo Military Commission’s efforts to pretend they control the proceedings of the court room, and not someone like John Brennan or the CIA.
All of them note that Judge James Pohl promised that Monday’s censorship won’t happen again. Savage adds an interesting detail: the suggestion that the censorship represented a disagreement between the Military Commission and the censor–presumed to be the CIA.
“This is the last time,” Colonel Pohl said, that any party other than a security officer inside the courtroom who works for the commission “will be permitted to unilaterally decide that the broadcast will be suspended.”
He added that while some legal rules and precedents governing the military commissions were unclear, there was no doubt that only he, as the judge, had the authority to close the courtroom. While officials may disagree about whether classified information had been improperly disclosed, he made clear he would not tolerate any outside party having control over a censorship button in his case.
“The commission will not permit any entity except the court security officer to suspend the broadcast of the proceeding,” Colonel Pohl said. “Accordingly I order the government to disconnect any ability of a third party to suspend broadcast of the proceeding, and I order any third party not to suspend proceedings.” [my emphasis]
This actually raises an interesting parallel with Article III Courts. There, DOJ has repeatedly insisted that courts have no authority to determine what is classified or not. On rare occasions, a Court will overrule the government.
This conflict appears to arisen from the same kind of disagreement, one made stark because of the censorship button. But ultimately, the Executive Branch was again insisting that only it can say, legally, what counts as classified.
Rosenberg raises a parallel issue: claims by DOJ lawyer Joanna Baltes, who oversees classification issues, that the Original Classification Authority in question was part of the Military Commissions. Pohl disagrees.
“An OCA does not work for the commission,” he said, the Pentagon term for the war court, “and has no independent decision-making authority on how these proceedings are to be conducted.” On Tuesday, civilian 9/11 prosecutor Joanna Baltes cast the role of the OCA as an approved extension of the military commissions.
“The OCA, original classification authority, reviews closed-circuit feed of the proceedings to conduct a classification review to ensure that classified information is not inadvertently disclosed,” she said in a note to the judge. “When the parties do press the mute button on the microphone, no audio is transmitted through the closed feed.”
Rosenberg raises one more important point: CIA screwed up during one of the first moments that the 40-second delay ordered by Pohl was in place.
Monday’s outside censorship episode occurred on the first day of proceedings after the judge formally approved the 40-second audio delay in the Sept. 11 trial, rejecting an American Civil Liberties Union argument that it transformed a live court into a “censorship chamber.”
Boy, the CIA sure wasted no time in validating the ACLU’s concerns?
As Reilly lays out, the incident has only raised the concerns of the Defense Attorneys.
“Who is pulling the strings? Who is the master of puppets? We have more questions than we have answers,” said Walter Ruiz, an attorney for Mustafa al Hawsawi, an alleged al Qaeda money courier.
David Nevin, a lawyer for KSM, said it would “open a number of questions” if indeed someone based in the U.S. had the ability to cut off the feed of the courtroom facility. Martins had declined to say whether the secret censor was based either in the U.S. or was located somewhere on Guantanamo Navy Base.
James Harrington, a lawyer for Ramzi Binalshibh, said a federal judge would have never put up with someone else having the ability to cut off access to his courtroom.
“I have been practicing for over 40 years in federal courts in the United States, if this had happened before any federal judge that I know of, this proceeding would have been stopped. There would have been hell to pay. Hell to pay,” Harrington said.
It’s going to be very hard to unring this bell, not matter how assiduously General Mark Martins tries to establish its independence (and last week’s fight over the inclusion of conspiracy charges had already damaged that).
In May 1999, some Yemeni al Qaeda affiliates planned a series of car thefts to fund a rescue attempt of one of their members who had been sentenced to death. The Yemeni government discovered the plot and raided an al Qaeda safe house. Osama bin Laden’s sometime bodyguard, Abu Jandal, was one of the men questioned by authorities. As authorities continued to pursue the case, Abu Jandal decided to return to Afghanistan and bin Laden. After he told OBL of the raid and explained it had to do with planned theft, not a crackdown on larger al Qaeda operations, according to Ali Soufan’s Black Banners,
“That is good to hear,” bin Laden said, and a look of calm relief passed over his face as he invoked the president of Yemen: “The ship of Ali Abdullah Saleh is the only ship we have.”
Since that time, of course, Al Qaeda bombed the USS Cole while it was arriving in Yemen. Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri was eventually caught, tortured in a black site, brought to Gitmo, and charged for the Cole bombing.
Saleh, for his part, recently came on his own “ship” to the US for medical treatment (and to escape increasing opposition to his rule).
And so, given the ready accessibility of a witness who might testify to Yemen’s close relations with al Qaeda at the time of the Cole bombing, al-Nashiri’s defense team asked to subpoena Saleh. But the State Department is having none of it.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is in the United States with full diplomatic immunity, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s legal advisor has written the Pentagon, and should not be compelled to provide sworn testimony for the Guantánamo war court.
State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh wrote the letter Monday to the Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, opposing a request for a subpoena by lawyers for an alleged al Qaida bomber facing a tribunal at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.
But Nashiri defense lawyer Richard Kammen said there’s public evidence that Saleh “sought to limit the investigation of the Cole bombing,” that “he personally handled evidence” and “members of his government are alleged to be complicit in the Cole bombing.”
I presume the government will have their way, here–after all this is a Gitmo military commission, not a civilian court.
But I also imagine this concern for Saleh’s diplomatic immunity comes as much from a desire to hide just how close Saleh has been with al Qaeda, given our subsequent reliance on him as a counterterrorism partner.
Last week we wondered what the appointment of the “new and improved” Gitmo Commander, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, would mean for the military commission system and upcoming big terror trials for the likes of al-Nashiri and KSM, and what it meant for the press coverage. Well, predictably, it appears to be rendering the same old same old.
Carol Rosenberg brings us the latest:
The website was unveiled last month to rehabilitate the reputation of the Guantanamo war court. So far it’s a hodgepodge of secrecy _ and still a work in progress, according to Defense Department officials, while clerks, lawyers and the intelligence community haggle behind the scenes over what the public can see.
It’s been more than a year in the making and the Pentagon has yet to reveal its cost. Every screen bears the slogan “fairness, transparency, justice.”
But a review of the content has found that it pointedly leaves out some of the key controversies that have bedeviled the war crimes trials, from allegations of torture to a comparison of the Seminole Indian tribe to al Qaida.
Disappointing, to say the least, but par for the course for the Gitmo experience. And, let’s be clear, it is not that they just haven’t had time to “work the kinks out” as this project has been underway for well over a year. And there is fantastic experience to draw from in the way of the Federal Court system’s PACER system. There are simply not that many detainees in total, much less defendants, to be entered into the system. The still dysfunctional and unusable system is the result of indifference, if not outright intent. As there will be no trials until next year at the earliest, maybe the situation can be remedied in time; but that will require the actual intent to do so. And that seems in short supply.
What I suspected would be the case has now been confirmed, namely that the “broadcast” of the commission trials will be a restricted joke. Again from Carol and the Miami Herald:
Pohl, the chief military commissions judge, assigned himself to the case, according to Defense Department sources, and chose the late October date to give the government time to finish a close-circuit feed site at Fort Meade, Md., outside Washington, D.C.
Up to 100 reporters could watch the Guantánamo arraignment on a 40-second delay under the new Fort Meade hook-up being inaugurated with the Cole trial to ease demand on a crude media tent city at the remote Navy base in southeast Cuba, which can accommodate 60 journalists.
There also will reportedly be a feed for a select few of the victims’ families. But zilch for the broader press, and nothing for the public. Just as with the suggested benefits and propriety of transparency on the targeting of American citizens for assassination, it would place the United States on a higher moral plane and demonstrate resolve and ethics to demonstrate to its citizens, and those of the world, that it is indeed providing a fair and just trial process for the detainees.
Necessary steps can easily enough shield that which must be, there is no reason not to show what this country stands for. Open and public justice is the best justice. Unless, that is, what we really stand for is not particularly just.
On Sunday, Carol Rosenberg informed us that there will be a new Chief Prosecutor in charge of military commissions at Guantanamo:
The Obama administration’s handpicked choice to run prosecutions at the Guantánamo war crimes court is pledging a new era of transparency from the remote base, complete with near simultaneous transmissions of the proceedings to victims and reporters on U.S. soil.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins made the disclosure in a profile published Sunday in the Weekly Standard that likened the West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law graduate to a James Bond-style problem solver. It also cast Martins as “The Rebrander” of the at-times denounced military commissions system, which Barack Obama scorned as a candidate and senator then reformed with Congress as president.
Despite the Weekly Standard’s fawning profile of Martins as some sort of savior to the system who will lend an air of legitimacy to the military commissions, Martins is in reality a hack who is dragged out periodically by the Pentagon to cover up its worst abuses. Martins was chosen by Obama to head the committee that attempted to re-brand indefinite detention as legal, has served as Commander and Deputy Commander of JTF 435, the notorious JSOC group charged with running detention programs in Afghanistan, has served as legal adviser to David Petraeus, and, in the most outrageously named position of all, now commands “the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan”.
Here is how Martins’ recent positions are spun in his official biography from which I took the quote on his current position:
Brigadier General Martins assumed command of the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan on 1 September 2010. During the previous year, he served as the first Commander of Joint Task Force 435 and then as its first Deputy Commander upon Senate Confirmation of Vice Admiral Robert Harward. In these roles, Brigadier General Martins led the effort to reform United States detention operations in Afghanistan. Immediately prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, Brigadier General Martins co-led the interagency Detention Policy Task Force created by the President in January 2009.
Martins’ career, then, consists of using his “West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law” degrees to cover up the blatantly illegal indefinite detention policy of the US, along with justifying torture and improper arrest of civilians in night raids in Afghanistan.
Back in April of 2010, I described how Martins had been chosen first to review detention policy and then to go to Afghanistan to implement the “new” policy he had designed. Here is how that description ended:
I fail to see how the process described above is any kind of improvement in achieving release of prisoners who have been improperly detained. This description of the process also serves to expose as a sham the entire Special Task Force’s charge of improving how the US handles prisoners. And right in the middle of this mess is Obama’s hand-picked (through Gates) architect of the process, who now is dutifully overseeing its implementation.
There is no getting around the fact that it would have been known that Martins would come up with a program designed to continue the efforts to cover up the imprisonment of innocent citizens. As I noted above, his previous assignments overlap with previous significant cover-ups. Also, as just one more example, Martins wrote an article (pdf) in 2004 that lovingly described the legal justification for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq. This program was in reality so loosely set up that it has been the subject of significant attention for misuse of funds.
So while there is perhaps an improvement of conditions for reporters such as Rosenberg who will be covering the proceedings of the military commissions with the advent of near real-time broadcasts of the hearings, don’t expect any sudden changes in favor of the rule of law. Mark Martins has built his career around covering up the worst of Pentagon abuses and he now is in charge of covering up what can be considered its most prominent legal quagmire. Martins was chosen for this position precisely because the Pentagon knows it can count of him to promote the status quo while lending a false air of legitimacy.