GUANTANAMO BAY — A source from the convening authority for the military commissions just informed the press corps that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has finally signed and issued a Manual for the Military Commissions Act of 2009. It’s 7:30 p.m. as I write this. Approximately 13 and a half hours from now, Col. Pat Parrish, the military judge presiding over Omar Khadr’s pre-trial hearing, will gavel the first full-fledged military commission proceeding of the Obama administration into order. The source told us that as of right now, prosecution and defense counsels are meeting with Parrish to inform him that the Manual is out.
Oh, one more thing: As of right now, a copy of the Manual isn’t at Guantanamo Bay. No one involved in tomorrow’s hearing has read it. Apparently its a very big file — inches thick if printed out — and internet speeds here are pretty slow.
Why’s this important? Because the Manual for the Military Commissions establishes the rules of evidence and the rules of procedure for the commissions — absolutely critical stuff for any judicial activity. Earlier this afternoon, Mike Berrigan, the deputy chief defense council for the commissions, bluntly told a press conference, “We don’t know what the law is” as a result of not having the Manual. Berrigan’s effective opposite, commissions prosecutor Navy Capt. David Iglesias, who claimed yesterday that the Military Commissions Act established sufficient rules, conceded shortly after Berrigan’s statement, “Reasonable people differ on this point.”
Iglesias further elaborated that if the judge sees things Berrigan’s way, “Tomorrow will be a very short day,” since the judge will simply delay the hearing until the issuance of the Manual. It bears mentioning that if officers of the court haven’t had time to read the Manual before the hearing, Iglesias’s quip still applies.