(AFP) – Apr 29, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Political pressure and evidence obtained through the abuse of prisoners has undermined the Guantanamo "war on terror" tribunals, their former chief prosecutor testified, US media reported.
Colonel Morris Davis, who resigned last year as the Pentagon's chief prosecutor for terrorism cases, was called to testify Monday on behalf of Osama bin Laden's former driver at a military commission at the remote US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Davis said senior officials in President George W. Bush's administration urged him to move high-profile trials along quickly for political reasons, The Washington Post reported.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and other Pentagon officials told him that charging well-known detainees before elections this year could have "strategic political value," Davis was quoted as saying by the Post.
Davis also accused Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the military official in charge of the tribunals, of tolerating evidence obtained from waterboarding, an interrogation method that simulates drowning and is widely condemned as a form of torture.
"To allow or direct a prosecutor to come into the courtroom and offer evidence they felt was torture, it puts a prosecutor in an ethical bind," Davis told the court.
But he said Hartmann replied that "everything was fair game -- let the judge sort it out."
Davis said that Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes once took issue with the possibility that some defendants could be acquitted by the commissions, which Davis said would give the system more legitimacy.
"He said, 'We can't have acquittals,'" Davis said. "'We've been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.'"
Davis, a prosecutor turned defense witness, appeared in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the alleged driver for Osama bin Laden who is charged with material support for terrorism.
Hamdan, 36, a Yemeni national, appeared disheveled at the hearing and threatened a boycott of the proceedings.
His lawyers argued his mental state has deteriorated due to virtual solitary confinement at Guantanamo and demanded military authorities take action.
Military officials running the camp say there is no solitary confinement and that conditions are humane for the inmates.
The officer presiding Monday postponed a hearing on the matter until before Hamdan's trial begins in June.
Hamdan appeared distraught at the decision, and threatened to boycott the process.
"I refuse all the lawyers. I refuse them working on my behalf and I'm sorry," Hamdan said. "I don't allow them to represent me when I'm not here."
One of the reasons the hearing on Hamdan's mental health was postponed until June was the absence of a mental health expert.
Hamdan has been evaluated by a psychiatrist who reported in an affidavit in February that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as hopelessness as a result of his captivity.
The Pentagon has refused to fund the doctor's continued work on the case, a move Hamdan's defense is challenging.
Davis also said that he came under political pressure to press charge against Australian David Hicks despite his preference to proceed with other cases first.
Davis was not part of a plea deal struck a year ago between military officials and Hicks' defense team.
Hicks, dubbed the "Aussie Taliban," received a nine-month prison term under the plea deal and was allowed to serve out his time in Australia.
One of Hamdan's lawyers, Joe McMillan, said after the hearing that Davis's testimony "calls into question the impartiality and independence of this court."
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