Thursday, May 15, 2008

Disqualified General Won't Quit Tribunals

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By Michael Melia

San Juan, Puerto Rico - A Pentagon official said Wednesday that he will not resign as legal advisor to war-crimes tribunals at Guantánamo, despite his removal from the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver because of a lack of impartiality.

But Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann left open the possibility that he could step aside if questions about his neutrality bog down other cases.

"I am the legal advisor today. We take it one day at a time," Hartmann told The Associated Press.

Last week, a military judge barred Hartmann from any role in the case against Salim Hamdan - Osama bin Laden's driver, possibly for case to go to trial - because he aligned himself too closely with prosecutors. Hartmann said he will abide by the judge's ruling and noted that he did not testify in the Hamdan case.

Defense lawyers have signaled they will assert improper influence in other cases as well, building on the Hamdan ruling. That leaves open the possibility of more setbacks for the on-again, off-again tribunals.

Nonetheless, Hartmann said he remains focused on moving toward trials, pointing to formal charges announced this week against confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators.

His boss signed the charges Friday. The Pentagon made them public Tuesday. The five men face a June 5 arraignment at Guantánamo.

"The focus should not go away from the fact that these five cases are going ahead jointly," he said.

Hartmann supervises the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo and has extensive powers over the tribunal system in his role as adviser.

At an April 28 hearing at Guantánamo, former chief prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris Davis testified that Hartmann meddled in his office and pushed for certain cases to be pursued over others based on political considerations.

Davis resigned as prosecutor in October, but remains an Air Force colonel.

But Hartmann said in the interview that he operated within his mandate by ensuring that prosecutors were properly trained and motivated in an office "that was not functioning at its peak."

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