Suppressed Evidence Could Clear Young Afghan Detainee Held for 6 Years; Now Four Prosecutors Have Quit Gitmo Trials Over Allegations of Misconduct
By Mike Melia / The Associated Press / Posted : Wednesday Sep 24, 2008 21:53:57 EDT
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – A U.S. military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay has quit because his office suppressed evidence that could clear a young Afghan detainee of war crimes charges, defense lawyers said Wednesday.
The prosecutor, Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, is now supporting a defense bid to dismiss the charges against Mohammed Jawad, according to Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo tribunals.
The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, denied that his office withheld evidence and said Vandeveld told him he was leaving his post for “personal reasons.”
“All you have is someone who is disappointed because his superiors didn’t see the wisdom of his recommendation in a case,” Morris told reporters.
Jawad, who was captured in Afghanistan when he was 16 or 17, is accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two American soldiers and their interpreter in December 2002. He faces a maximum life sentence at a trial scheduled to begin in December.
In a declaration submitted to the defense, Vandeveld said prosecutors knew Jawad may have been drugged before the attack and that the Afghan Interior Ministry said two other men had confessed to the same crime, Berrigan said. Pentagon officials refused to provide a copy of the declaration.
Vandeveld declined to comment through a tribunal spokeswoman.
“He decided he could no longer ethically serve either as a prosecutor in this case or for the Office of Military Commissions,” said Jawad’s Pentagon-appointed attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt. He said Vandeveld had endorsed settling the case and releasing Jawad after a short while.
Frakt said he has asked for Vandeveld to testify at Jawad’s pretrial hearing Thursday but the former prosecutor was denied authorization to fly to the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.
At least three other Guantanamo prosecutors have quit their posts over allegations of misconduct. The former chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, resigned in October and accused his superiors of political meddling.
Davis testified last month that a Pentagon official who oversaw the tribunals until last week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, pushed for Jawad to be prosecuted before others because the details of the case would grip the American public and help build support for the process.
“The guy who threw the grenade was always at the top of the list,” Davis said.
The military judge later ruled that disqualified Hartmann from the case, saying he had compromised his objectivity by aligning himself with prosecutors.
Two other former prosecutors, Air Force Maj. John Carr and Air Force Maj. Robert Preston, asked to be reassigned after alleging in 2004 that prosecutors had deliberately misled senior civilian Pentagon officials about the quality of evidence against defendants.
Jawad is one of roughly two dozen detainees facing charges in the Pentagon’s specially designed system for prosecuting alleged terrorists. Military prosecutors say they plan trials for about 80 of the 255 men held here on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.