In a new blow to the Bush administration’s troubled military commission system, a military judge has disqualified a Pentagon general who has been centrally involved in overseeing Guantánamo war crimes tribunals from any role in the first case headed for trial.An analysis in the Times, "Judge's Guantanamo Ruling Bodes Ill for System,"draws out the significance of this ruling:
The judge said the general was too closely aligned with the prosecution, raising questions about whether he could carry out his role with the required neutrality and objectivity.
Military defense lawyers said that although the ruling was limited to one case, they expected the issue to be raised in other cases, potentially delaying prosecutions, including the death-penalty prosecution of six detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Critics of the military commission system said Friday that the judge’s decision would provide new grounds to attack the system that they say was set up to win convictions.
The ruling, in the case against Salim Hamdan, a detainee who was a driver for Osama bin Laden, transformed what had been something of a Pentagon soap opera over how to prosecute detainees into a formal ruling that gave new force to critics’ accusations of improper political influence over this country’s first use of military commissions since World War II.
“The military judge has said that, at the very least, there are grave appearance problems with this system,” said Michael J. Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantánamo cases.
“Telling the chief prosecutor (and other prosecutors),” the decision said, “that certain types of cases would be tried and that others would not be tried, because of political factors such as whether they would capture the imagination of the American people, be sexy, or involve blood on the hands of the accused, suggests that factors other than those pertaining to the merits of the case were at play.”
“The military commission process is hitting a brick wall from within the military and outside the military,” said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been a vocal critic of the system.This is the second embarrassing ruling inside of a week, impacting yet again the credibility of the Gitmo process. As these trials start up, at this rate, I think we can expect many more.