Cover-up Specialist Mark Martins Chosen as Gitmo Chief Prosecutor

Brigadier General Mark Martins, CEO of Cover-ups R Us.

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.

22 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    I’m actually a bit more measured about Martin.

    I think the task force, as conceived, wrongly clung to the legal notion that we can hold people as long as our forever war lasts. That has basis in international law, but it is not good policy.

    Further, the task force expanded the notion of “need to hold” to include “because we drove these people nuts.” No support for that in international law, particularly since you’re not supposed to be holding AND torturing people.

    Further, I think the report illegally approved the holding of Taliban (legal combatants) and Hekmatyar (not covered under the AUMF)–though of course the DC circuit is cool with both of these practices, so they got away with it.

    But it did do the unpopular work of separating out a lot of people who obviously shouldn’t be there, even while the Bush analysis said they should.

    So not good, not adequate, but better than what had gone before.

  2. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Well, maybe he did improve things a bit, but the bottom line is that there are still a number of improperly detained prisoners who will now face an even smaller chance of being released as he prosecutes them. And that’s been his pattern all along: He’s touted as the savior and makes some changes but falls far short of adhering to the law.

  3. bmaz says:


    Yeah, I agree. And I think he has shown the same signs already at Gitmo. It is not ideal maybe, but better than we have had. And Martins has been more transparent and open to feedback from those on the outside (even if that is still mostly the think tank set at Lawfare).

  4. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: There’s a difference between being a savior–an argument I’m not making–and being an improvement.

    Take his decision to make the Gitmo stuff available online. I almost joked to Carol that it’s an effort to bypass Rosenberg. If the trials are only accessible to people at Gitmo, it means whoever is covering it has the ability to ask Carol stuff that only she knows (not even the guards know some of that stuff). So this will undercut Carol’s authoritative position.

    At the same time, though, it will make it less likely they’ll do what they did to Carol, kick her out bc she reported on Joshua Claus.

    Yes, Martin is not complying w/intl law (though absent another SCOTUS review, he is complying with bad, misguided, wrong US law as it exists). But it is valuable to lay out what Martin is doing, which is a change, to understand what the strengths and weaknesses of those changes will be.

  5. What Constitution says:

    Our government is actually willing to name an indefinite detention military group using the words “Rule of Law Field Force — Afghanistan”? Really? Really? Where’s Jon Stewart?

  6. Mary says:

    I’m a bit more in your camp, JW. There isn’t really any international law basis for shipping non-POWs (i.e., at a minimum, combatants and more to the point state aligned non-combatants) to a foreign destination for concentrated population camp detentions. He’s the guy who’s willing to strip down and Do The Hustle in his Batman briefs and hope all the bells and whistles and strobe lights distract from what little there really is in the package being delivered. He’s also going to be playing at taking his “best case” worst cases to make the sales pitches on what has been going on – KSM is the “seal the deal” case for getting the widest support for the worst of excesses. I’m not very nuanced on his getting the nod, but then again, I’m not very nuanced on any of the “let’s make this an unrepentant torture nation” lawyers. They do a disservice that can’t be undone, to a whole nation and to the world, for career enhancements and inner circle power chips. I’m no Catholic and can’t give a rundown on venial v. moral sins, but I do know that some things are definitionally unforgiveable and for good reason.

  7. Jim White says:

    @Mary: “some things are definitionally unforgiveable”

    Indeed. I tend to be an absolutist in my thinking and the willingness Martins has shown for going along with the unforgivable things you point out puts him squarely in the hack camp for me.

    However, for folks who take the view that we sometimes have to work within the system that exists rather than the system that should be, the points that Marcy and bmaz are making do point to some “good” things that Martins has done in terms of making an evil system slightly less evil in a few regards, and actions such as his can only be done from within the system.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: FWIW, I’m not saying WE “have to work within the system.” Just that there is value to distinguishing between those trying to do so and those trying to dismantle the system is important to understanding.

  9. Mary says:

    @MadDog: I guess having a gift for the unappealing is better than no gift? Or maybe not ;)

    I’m not trying to be difficult, and I guess this may go to what the definition of “the system” is, but I really don’t see him as someone who was trying to work within recognizable systemic boundaries for improvement of a system-accepted and supported goal.

    Because I’m not as up to par on the abuses of JTF 435 as many, I don’t base that just on his service as advisor for things that could not possibly have been said to be accepted and acceptable with “the system” (as opposed to the system being thwarted by a few men of power so as to craft post-hoc immunizations from consequences that they system actually required of and from those working within it). Instead, it’s his repeated appearance as someone who never was working within the system under that system’s requirements of accountability, and instead has always been someone working to rearrange and circumvent the existing systems accountability requirements. Someone who doesn’t hold his crew’s feet to the fire on accountability isn’t working within the system imo. fwiw.

    It’s like Holder and Breuer never smacking down any of the admin lawyers invovled in destruction of docs and fibs to the courts and mislabelling of info as classified to avoid embarassment etc. – I can’t say they are guys who are working “within the system” either and make that distinction on the system needing the change. They aren’t working within the system – they are working like guys who don’t HAVE to work within the system. I think that’s Martin’s mantle (there MD, better than batman briefs for mental picture, eh?) in the DOD arena as much as it has been Holders and and Breuer’s in the DOJ arena. Guys who basically piss on the system, not respectfully work within it. Again, jmo.

    FWIW – Susan Crawford worked within the system. Martin’s not someone who would ever have done what she did, again, imo. all fwiw

  10. MadDog says:

    “…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…”

    Pardon my cynicism, but I tend to think with this purported improved “transparency” on the part of the US government, there is less here than meets the eye (to coin a phrase *g*).

    If I ask myself whose convenience is being accomodated here with “near real-time broadcasts” of these Military Commissions, hands-down I think it is for the convenience of the US government and not for the 4th Estate.

    The US government doesn’t have to worry any longer about those pesky journalists getting in the face of prosecutors and asking impertinent questions.

    The US government doesn’t have to worry any longer about those pesky journalists seeing stuff the US government doesn’t want them to see such as the skeptical eye-rolls from the secret military officer judges/jury everytime the defense gets up to speak.

    And then there is the tired old nostrum that “the camera never lies”. As any cinematographer or photographer will tell you, the camera only shows one point of view, and it is a view controlled by the photographer.

    While many consumers still believe that “the camera never lies”, a whole multi-multi-billion dollar industry has been devoted for almost an entire century to doing just that (see Hollywood and TV).

    No, this purported improved “transparency” on the part of the US government reminds me more of “show trials” scripted, performed, and produced as a pre-packaged “we do justice” extravaganza ready for public consumption.

  11. bmaz says:


    First, and again, i read some of the things written by this guy well prior to this assignment. Is he “one of us”, no. Are many of the complaints Jim and Mary evince about his involvement in things true, yes. But I think, while Martins certainly does not trend as far as we do in what we would like to see, he strikes me as having some genuine desire at making the process better and more transparent. Now it is plenty easy to argue that what he suggests is wholly insufficient, but I think his baby steps are far better than nothing, and likely, at least mostly, genuinely motivated within the constraints of what his job is.

    Secondly, I think you have ignored a very large and important factor here, the “victims”. And they have made a LOT of noise about the ability to “see their justice” as to the core 9/11 trials. Trying to make that happen within the confines of Gitmo would be a nightmare as to transportation, security and facility logistics. That is a big factor here I think.

  12. MadDog says:

    @bmaz: You make valid points counselor!

    That said, I still am suspicious of the “show trial” aspect of this process.

    One of the paramount benefits of courts, federal as well as state and local courts, is the public’s right to physically attend and view the proceedings.

    The “near real-time broadcasts” of Military Commissions from Guantanamo seems to me to fall short of the public’s right.

    Public attendance at judicial proceedings is supposedly not meant to influence the proceedings, but in reality the public’s participation does have an influence on all the participants; the attorneys, the defendants, the judge, the jury. One of those benefits is an accountability to the public. The participants are on a public stage whether they want to be or not because the public insists on it.

    Or put another way, the lack of the public’s participation in these Military Commission proceedings tends to reinforce a secretiveness and unaccountability that is corrosive to the very idea of justice in judicial proceedings.

    From the public’s point of view, “near real-time broadcasts” might indeed be better than nothing, but it still falls far short of real public and 4th Estate participation in the process.

    I think we agree that Military Commissions themselves are still problematic as opposed to Acticle III courts. I think we even might agree that Military Commissions deliberately not held in the United States are even more problematic.

    In my view, providing “near real-time broadcasts” of Military Commissions from Guantanamo is the US government telling the public that “beggars can’t be choosers”.

    We’ll get only what the US government wants us to get, and we should damn well be happy that they even give us that.

  13. bmaz says:


    Well, I have been asking some questions about that behind the scenes; but no satisfactory answers yet. It appears Martins got out a little ahead of himself in the “broadcast” thing, and nobody has seen any actual specific policy on it yet. I have an inkling that the second noise is made, the govt may then limit to victims only, as opposed to going the other way and opening it up to the full public. I may look for a way to formally address this though.

  14. MadDog says:

    @bmaz: By victims, I’m assuming the US government would be limiting that to direct 9/11 victims, USS Cole bombing victims, etc.

    In one sense, I can understand that (Oklahoma City bombing victims got to watch the execution of Timothy McVeigh), and in another sense, I can’t understand the limitation.

    Where does victimhood end with 9/11? Where does victimhood end with 10 years of GWOT? Are the family members of servicemembers who died or have been injured in Afghanistan not victims?

    “…I may look for a way to formally address this though.”

    Excellent! Despite my arguments above attacking “near real-time broadcasts” as opposed to real public access, as you say something is better than nothing. The US government should put this up on CSPAN if they are going to broadcast it to anyone at all.

  15. Mary says:

    Cully Stimson and Heritage are big fans
    because, as he notes, the important thing is that it means the commissions go forward. So there won’t be as many traitorous law firms for Heritage to go after with the new funder, Google’s help.

    Here’s the thing. There’s good strategy to covering up your really crappy cases to take the ones involving the high profile evil guys – the Nashiri’s and KSM’s, and sprinkle in some hints at transparency (a lot of which, so far, is basically just making things that were already avaiable through scattered sourcing available centrally). Anyway – to legitimize your approach you take your best fact cases – guys who are linked by real evidence, not obtained through torture, to really nasty-horrific things, make them your centerpieces and get your transparency on – and let them suck the oxygen out of the the room for the peripherals. If I believed in making this an unrepentant torture nation and laying down some nasty ass precedent for the future and “leading” my country into something so despicable while clothing it in bland platitudes – it’s what I’d go with too. IMO, Martin and his platitudes are a lot like Obama and his hopey-changeyness. If he were a different person with a different set of commitments, you could look at things and see a crack in the wall. But if you factor in his willingness to work for torture and assassination as nationally accepted “tactics” of goverment for years, for career, for personal satisfaction – you end up with him basically being what Obama has been. One of the worst things possible that could have happened. Toss out a little transparency and centralize it around the monsters, and line up the former voices of opposition (the judicial/military/diplomatic equivalents of the Holders, the Kohs, the Pannettas, the Leahys, the Feingolds, the Durbins, etc that Obama confiscated)behind the worst, while banner waving over the improvements. I know I’m stubborn on this, but to me an evaluation that Martins is maybe a step in the right direction without looking at all the kinds of strategies that are at work in the background and the lack of personal commitment to doing the right thing is like voting for a peace prize for Obama. fwiw

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