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Jawad Case Turned Prosecutor Into Military Commissions Foe « The Washington Independent

More from Army Reserve Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, the former military commissions prosecutor turned commissions foe whom I interviewed yesterday. He’s testifying this morning before a House Judiciary subcommittee against the commissions, and in his prepared remarks, he tells the story of how a self-described “true believer” in the commissions came to believe they’re hopelessly unfair:

I had heard stories about abuse at Guantanamo, but I brushed them off as hyperbole. When one of the detainees I was prosecuting, a young Afghan named Mohammed Jawad, told the court that he was only 16 at the time of his arrest, and that he had been subject to horrible abuse, I accused him of exaggerating and ridiculed his story as “idiotic.” I did not believe that he was a juvenile, and I railed against Jawad’s military defense attorney, whom I suspected of being a terrorist sympathizer.

But then he started exploring further into Jawad’s case — Jawad was brought before a commission in March 2008 and charged with throwing a grenade at U.S. troops in Afghanistan — which proved to be a breaking point. Much of Jawad’s story is relatively well known among civil libertarians. But as far as I’m aware, Vandeveld’s testimony represents the first time that a member of the prosecuting team has confirmed its outline.

…[G]athering the evidence against Mr. Jawad was like looking into Pandora’s box: I uncovered a confession obtained through torture, two suicide attempts by the accused, abusive interrogations, the withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense, judicial incompetence, and ugly attempts to cover up the failures of an irretrievably broken system.

Evidence from U.S. Army criminal investigators showed that Jawad had been hooded, slapped repeatedly across the face and then thrown down at least one flight of stairs while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. Detainee records show that once at Guantanamo, he was subjected to a sleep deprivation regime, known as the “frequent flier program,” during which he was moved to different cells 112 times over a 14-day period—an average of once every 2 1/2 hours, and that he had tried to commit suicide by banging his head repeatedly against a wall. Evidence from a bone scan showed that he was, in fact, a juvenile when he was initially taken into U.S. custody. Field reports, and examinations by US medical personnel in the hours after Jawad had been apprehended, indicated that he had been recruited by terrorists who drugged him and lied to him, and that he probably hadn’t committed the crime for which he was being charged. In fact, the military had obtained confessions from at least two other individuals for the same crime.

And this is what happened when Vandeveld tried to stop the prosecution of a man he came to believe is innocent:

I came to realize that Mr. Jawad had probably been telling the truth to the court from the very beginning. I implored my supervisors to allow Mr. Jawad to reach a plea agreement, in hopes that he would soon be released and returned to Afghanistan, but they not only rebuffed my requests, they refused even to listen to my explanation of my rationale for the agreement. I then made the enormously painful decision to ask to be reassigned from the Commissions, and personally petitioned the Army’s top lawyer, to return to Iraq or Afghanistan to serve the remainder of my obligation. I simply could not in good conscience continue to work for an ad hoc, hastily-created apparatus – as opposed to the military itself — whose evident resort to expediency and ethical compromise were so contrary to my own and to those the Army has enshrined and preached since I enlisted so many years ago.

The military commissions cannot be fixed, because their very creation—and the only reason to prefer military commissions over federal criminal courts for the Guantanamo detainees—can now be clearly seen as an artifice, a contrivance, to try to obtain prosecutions based on evidence that would not be admissible in any civilian or military prosecution anywhere in our nation.

Interestingly, Vandeveld gave grudging support for Obama’s version of the military commissions in May, but it appears that he’s come to believe they simply can’t be fixed.

The Senate is supposed to debate military commissions legislation written in the Armed Services Committee early next week. Will Vandeveld’s testimony influence anyone?

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