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Calls for the demolition of the Abu Ghraib prison are quelled when a military judge, Col. James L. Pohl, declares the prison a crime scene and rules that it cannot be destroyed prior to a verdict. (Associated Press 6/21/2004)
During a pre-trial hearing for Spc. Charles Graner held at a US military tribunal in Mannheim, Germany, Judge Col. James L. Pohl orders the US government to complete three investigative reports about Abu Ghraib by September 10 for submission as evidence. If the government fails to complete the reports by October, he says he will “seriously revisit” Graner’s plea to dismiss the case. Pre-trial hearings are also being held in Mannheim for Spc. Megan Ambuhl, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, and Spc. Javal Davis (see August 24, 2004) in order to establish what evidence can or cannot be submitted to the court-martial (Boyes 8/23/2004)
During a pre-trial hearing for Sgt. Javal Davis held at a US military tribunal in Mannheim, Germany, Judge Col. James L. Pohl denies a motion by Davis’ attorney to have Rumsfeld testify. Pohl says the defense failed to link the actions of the accused with Rumsfeld’s orders and actions. (CNN 8/24/2004) Davis will eventually be convicted and sentenced to six months in prison (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006).
US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rules on a lawsuit filed by three Kuwaiti detainees at Guantanamo: Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari, Khalid Abdullah Mishal al-Mutairi, and Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad al-Odah. She rules that detainees should be permitted to communicate with their lawyers without the government listening in on their conversations. She says the government’s attempt to wire-tap detainee-attorney communications threatens to “erode [the] bedrock principle” of attorney-client privilege. She says the government is defending its position with “a flimsy assemblage” of arguments. “The government has supplied only the most slender legal support for its argument, which cannot withstand the weight of the authority surrounding the importance of the attorney-client privilege.” (Reuters 10/20/2004) The three Kuwaitis, Judge Kollar states, “have been detained virtually incommunicado for nearly three years without being charged with any crime. To say that their ability to investigate the circumstances surrounding their capture and detention is ‘seriously impaired’ is an understatement.” (Associated Press 10/21/2004) She does concede, however, that lawyers for the Guantanamo detainees are required to disclose to the government any information from their client involving future threats to national security. (Reuters 10/20/2004)
Army Specialist Charles Graner is sentenced to 10 years in prison. In a military court-martial, Graner was convicted of crimes related to the torture and abuse of prisoners in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison (see October 2003), October 17-22, 2003), November 4-December 2, 2003, and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003), including charges of battery, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts, and dereliction of duty. Graner admitted some of his actions were criminal, and told jurors, “I didn’t enjoy what I did there” before he was found guilty. Asked if he felt remorse over his actions, Graner says simply: “There’s a war on. Bad things happen.” After Graner completes his sentence, he will be dishonorably discharged. He has forfeited all of his pay and benefits. Defense lawyer Guy Womack says that Graner and his six fellow Abu Ghraib guards also facing trials (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006) are being used as scapegoats by the Defense Department. Graner and his lawyers were unable to effectively discuss orders being handed down from superior officers during the trial, as the judge in the court-martial, Colonel James Pohl, refused to let witnesses say the names of officers who gave the orders or what orders might have been given, in effect constraining the trial to point to Graner and his colleagues as independent, “rogue” agents operating outside the chain of command. Graner did not testify during his trial, but during sentencing said that he had done what he was ordered to do by US intelligence agents, in order to “soften up” prisoners for interrogation. According to Graner, a lieutenant in his unit told him: “If [military intelligence] asks you to do this, it needs to be done. They’re in charge, follow their orders.” He believed the orders to torture and abuse prisoners were lawful, he claims. (Associated Press 1/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 155) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note that while the print media coverage of Graner’s trial is relatively extensive, the broadcast media virtually ignores it in favor of celebrating the inauguration of President Bush (see January 11-16, 2005). (Rich 2006, pp. 155)
Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). (Finn 1/30/2009)
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