The Six Gitmo Prosecutors Who Protested
Last week, yet another prosecutor at the war crimes tribunals at Guantanamo Bay resigned in protest. The officer, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, complained that prosecutors hadn’t given the defense in the case “potentially exculpatory evidence.” As we noted, Vandeveld is not the first Gitmo prosecutor to protest the proceedings.
Six prosecutors have either stepped down or refused to prosecute, citing qualms about the system. We decided to compile a list.
Major John Carr – March 2004
A captain at the time, Carr was on the team to prosecute Gitmo’s first war crimes trials. But the Air Force prosecutor quit, saying prosecutors in their office had suppressed evidence of abuse and had failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence. The action, Carr wrote in an e-mail to the then-chief prosecutor, “may constitute dereliction of duty, false official statements or other criminal conduct.”
Major Robert Preston – March 2004
Preston was on the same team as Carr and resigned at the same time. He complained that others in their office had suppressed FBI documentation of abuse.
“I sincerely believe that this process is wrongly managed, wrongly focused and a blight on the reputation of the armed forces,” Preston wrote in an e-mail to his superiors. “This assignment is quite literally ruining my life.”
An investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general of both Preston’s and Carr’s allegations reportedly found what one advisor to the tribunals described as “no evidence of any ethical violation.” The report has never been made public.
Captain Carrie Wolf – Mid-2004
Little has been written about Capt. Wolf, but she reportedly wrote e-mails to superiors detailing concerns about the tribunal system. She asked to be moved from the prosecutors’ office around the same as Preston and Carr. Wolf appears to have never publicly commented on the decision. Newsweek tried to speak with her this summer, but could not reach her.
Lt Col. Stuart Couch – Mid-2004
Couch came to believe that the detainee he was slated to prosecute, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, had been abused during his time at Gitmo. Couch did not resign, but he did lodge complaints and refused to participate in the planned tribunal. According to the Wall Street Journal, Slahi been chained to the floor and subjected to stress positions. Interrogators also reportedly gave Slahi a forged letter saying his mother had been detained and was being sent to Gitmo.
Couch told the Journal he was “morally opposed” to the interrogation techniques “and for that reason alone refused to participate in the prosecution in any manner.”
“Here was somebody I felt was connected to 9/11,” he told the Journal. “But in our zeal to get information, we had compromised our ability to prosecute him.”
“We lost what little bit of credibility that might have been there,” Couch later told Newsweek.
Col. Morris Davis – October 2007
Explaining his resignation, Morris, the former chief prosecutor at the tribunals, cited the lack of transparency of the trials as well as political interference from higher-ups. He wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “I concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system.” Morris said he resigned “a few hours” after being told that his new boss would be a controversial Defense Department lawyer who had approved abusive treatment of prisoners.
This spring, Morris testified on behalf of Salim Hamdan, the defendant in Gitmo’s first war crimes trial. Under questioning, Morris recounted being told by his superior, “We can’t have acquittals. We have to have convictions.’” (A Pentagon spokeswoman later said, “The Department of Defense disputes the assertions made by Colonel Davis in this statement regarding acquittals.”)
Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld – September 2008
Vandeveld was slated to prosecute the case of Mohamed Jawad, a teenager at the time of his capture in 2002 in Afghanistan. But Vandeveld suggested in an affidavit that he agrees with the defense’s stance on the case, namely that Jawad was a child soldier and forced to fight against the U.S.
Testifying on behalf of the defense last week, Vandeveld said he found key evidence that hadn’t been given to the defense and eventually went from a ”true believer to someone who felt truly deceived.”
The current chief prosecutor at Gitmo dismissed Vandeveld’s claims, saying, “We are the most scrupulous organization you can imagine in terms of disclosure to the defense.” Vandeveld was also reportedly ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.