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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 31, 2008

 
What's Up Down There?

by digby

I think we all knew that these Gitmo trials were less than just, but they seem to be turning into full blown Kangaroo Courts --- with The Pentagon calling the shots and changing the rules at will.

I know the press is consumed with defending themselves against the false accusations that they fell prey to group think, laziness and patriotic fervor in the run up to the war so they don't have time to get into this trivia, but this seems like a really good story for somebody if they can get to the bottom of it:

The Defense Department was mum Friday on the reasons for the abrupt removal of a Guantánamo war court judge who had threatened to suspend the trial of Canadian captive Omar Khadr in a showdown with the controversial prison camp.

Khadr's lawyers were notified without explanation Thursday that the military judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback III, had been replaced by a new Army judge arriving at the commissions amid a surge in Pentagon prosecutions.

Air Force Capt. André Kok, spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions, said in a statement the sudden switch was the result of it was "a mutual decision between Col. Brownback and the Army that he revert to his retired status when his current active duty orders expire in June."

Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, a military judge, is the chief judge for military commissions. Thursday, he said he was assigning U.S. Army Col. Patrick Parrish to replace Brownback.

Khadr's lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, in turn notified the media that Brownback ``has been relieved of further duties in the case.''

Brownback had presided over the tribunal's proceedings against the Canadian, who was captured as a teen in Afghanistan in July 2002.

Khadr's case has been on track to be one of the first to trial at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Khadr, the son of an alleged al Qaeda financier, is accused of throwing a grenade that fatally wounded a U.S. Special Forces soldier.

Military prosecutors had been pressing Brownback to set a trial date, but he has repeatedly directed them first to satisfy defense requests for access to potential evidence. At a hearing earlier this month, he threatened to suspend the proceedings altogether unless the detention center provided records of Khadr's confinement.


This is an interesting twist, since Brownback was featured heavily in the Hamdan case:

Clad in traditional Yemeni attire of a flowing white robe called a jilbab over which he wore a suit coat and a patterned white shawl, Mr. Hamdan spoke briefly in Arabic in response to questions from the presiding officer of the panel, Col. Peter E. Brownback III. Mr. Hamdan said, according to the translation provided, that he understood his right to a lawyer and was satisfied with Commander Swift's representation but thought he should have a second lawyer, something Commander Swift told the court he had requested many times.

Much of the morning was taken up with Commander Swift's efforts to portray Colonel Brownback as incapable of serving impartially because of extensive contacts with senior Pentagon officials who helped set up the military tribunals. Colonel Brownback, who came out of retirement to serve on a tribunal, seemed annoyed at Commander Swift's request that he step aside and said he would forward it to the Pentagon. By the end of the day Commander Swift had challenged the suitability of four other panel members.

Commander Swift said that Colonel Brownback should be disqualified because he said at a July 15 meeting with some lawyers that he did not believe Guantánamo detainees had any rights to a speedy trial. Colonel Brownback sharply denied making the remark.

But hours later at the conclusion of the day's proceedings, Commander Swift stunned Colonel Brownback when he said he had just learned that an audiotape of the meeting existed and he would like to include it in his request that Colonel Brownback be disqualified. Colonel Brownback covered his face with his hands for several moments and then agreed to have the tape recording included.


Here's a little tid-bit from Michael Froomkin at the time:

Asked by the defence whether he believed the orders establishing the military commission were lawful, Colonel Brownback paused, and to the surprise of some observers, said: “I choose not to answer that question at this time.” Asked again by the military prosecutor, Commander Scott Lang, Colonel Brownback replied that he had “a duty to comply” with any order, even if it was “questionable”.


It sounds to me as if Brownback has an interesting tale to tell. He's clearly been a mixed bag for civil libertarians on these cases, but his abrupt dismissal and history of clashes with the Pentagon indicates that he has a complicated view. I wonder if anyone can get him to tell it. The Canadian and Australian papers seem to be following these Gitmo stories in much more detail than here at home. (Not that that indicts the American press who have always done a terrific job, as we all know.)

In case you're wondering, the case from which Brownback was removed is this:

Mr. Khadr was 15 when he was captured after a gun battle in Afghanistan in 2002. His Canadian and U.S. defence lawyers, along with myriad human-rights and legal groups and Canadian opposition politicians, have said he should be treated as a child soldier and not be subjected to the U.S. military commissions system in Guantanamo Bay.

Mr. Khadr faces several charges stemming from the Afghanistan battle, including murder. Now 21, he faces the prospect of life in prison if convicted.


Life in prison for a 15 year old Afghan boy who allegedly fought the Americans during the early months of an invasion of his home country. I guess it's better than being shot dead, but that's about it.

More here from human Rights watch. And here, from the ACLU.


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