GTMO Postscript: Prosecutor Goes After Defense, Press
Friday, May 07, 2010 at 10:49 am
GUANTANAMO BAY — As an addendum to my piece this morning, it’s worth noting an unexpected and unusual attack on the integrity of Omar Khadr’s attorneys and the press corps here that Navy Capt. John Murphy, the chief prosecutor of the military commissions, issued yesterday afternoon.
After Col. Patrick Parrish, the military judge presiding over Khadr’s case, gaveled this week’s proceedings in Khadr’s pre-trial hearing to a close, both teams of attorneys trudged to the aircraft hangar that’s been converted into the press’s work area for back-to-back news conferences. Defense counsel had briefed us every day after court ended, and so attorneys Kobie Flowers, Barry Coburn and Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson didn’t surprise us when they commented on the big event of the day — testimony from “Interrogator #1” that he threatened Khadr with rape and even death in Bagram in 2002.
But it was the first time that Murphy and his team held a press conference during the past two weeks, and he came out swinging. “What you heard was a summation of their closing argument,” Murphy said, accusing Flowers, Coburn and Jackson of improperly trying Khadr’s case outside the courtroom and calling it a “violation of that ethic that applies to all of us” barring lawyers from “prejudicing a criminal proceeding.” When pressed on whether he would refer the defense lawyers to some professional body for sanction, Murphy demurred: “All I’m prepared to say is that from my observation, I saw comments on the merits of the case and the merits of the evidence, and that operates to prejudice the accused. That’s not something we’re going to do and we’re not going to do it.”
In his general comments about Khadr’s case, Murphy denied that Khadr’s youth — he was 15 years old when captured by U.S. forces in 2002 — made his prosecution problematic. He warned about the policy consequences of such an argument, asking, “Is al-Qaeda going to start recruiting 15- and 16-year-olds?
But he ended his press conference with a firm defense of keeping Interrogator #1′s identity private, even though identifying information had come out in open court; the interrogator in question pleaded guilty in his court martial on detainee abuse and cannot be re-deployed (re-deployment was an issue Murphy cited as grounds for non-disclosure); and the individual in question gave an on-the-record interview to Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star in 2008 saying he wanted to clear his name.
“We think that protective order should be enforced,” he said, not singling out any reporter or publication. “In these proceedings, the access has been extraordinary. You see so much. … Our position is, and I hope it would be given a lot of thought, that publishing identities carries some risk and the judge recognizes that risk when he issues these protective orders.” Asked how the media could formally file a challenge to the order, Murphy replied, “I’m not going to become your lawyer.”
Less than an hour after the press conference concluded, four reporters were informed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Public Affairs office — to be very clear, a different chain of command than the one to which Murphy answers through the Office of Military Commissions — that they would be banned from returning to the base for publishing Interrogator #1′s name. Parrish has not issued any ruling that any reporter has violated his protective order.
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