Pentagon withdraws two members of Guantánamo panel after complaints




By Mark Huband in London

Financial Times, 23 October 2004

Military lawyers representing two alleged terrorist detainees held at Guantánamo Bay on Cuba have forced the Pentagon to withdraw two members of the commission hearing the case after complaining that they might be biased.

The decision means that the five-member commissions hearing the cases of David Hicks, an Australian, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, will be reduced to three.

Pentagon-appointed defence lawyers for these and two other detainees accused of involvement in terrorist activity raised questions in August about the credibility of the panel members, alleging that four of them had been involved in US military counter-terrorism efforts and were therefore unlikely to be impartial.

Colonel John Brownback, the officer overseeing the commissions, has not been removed, though he was the target of strong criticism by defence lawyers.

The Pentagon did not name the two commission members who had been withdrawn. Defence lawyers had criticised the inclusion of Lt Col Timothy Toomey, a US air force intelligence officer, who had been involved in gathering information about al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Also criticised was the inclusion of Col Thomas Bright, who had been involved in moving detainees from Afghanistan to Guantánamo, and Col Jack Sparks, one of whose marine reserve colleagues died in the World Trade Center on September 11 2001.

Announcing the changes to the commissions, which will resume hearings on November 1, John Altenburg, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “The country is grateful for the professional, dedicated and selfless service of these exceptional officers in this sensitive and important matter.”

Civilian attorneys fighting to have the trials heard in civilian courts have argued that the detention of the 549 detainees at Camp Delta is illegal and have used the changes to intensify their criticism of the process.

“Even these changes are a sham,” said Joe Margulies, who represents several detainees and argues that the entire process is illegal.

“What this shows is that [the] commission itself is subject to no fixed rules. The essential principle of due process is that it is subject to fixed and transparent rules.”

Josh Dratel, attorney for Mr Hicks, said yesterday: “They chose five initially because they knew five was a fair number. Three is not a fair number. They’re not interested in it being a fair proceeding.”


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.