For an Army officer, criticizing the military commissions at Guantanamo as a perversion of justice probably isn’t the best career move. That goes double if you also happen to be a former top military prosecutor at Gitmo. That’s why Lt. Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a US army reservist with nearly 20 years of service under his belt, fears the worst when a military promotion board renders its decision in his case this week.
So what exactly is Lt. Colonel Vandeveld saying about the military commission that the military, specifically the Army, wants to hide?
[….]Vandeveld has reason to believe the board may attempt the latter—forcing into retirement the officer who, in a July 2009 congressional hearing [pdf], declared that “the military commission system is broken beyond repair.”
The road to that hearing room led through Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and, finally, the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where from May 2007 to September 2008 Vandeveld served as a military lawyer. In civilian life, Vandeveld was a senior prosecutor in the district attorney’s office in Erie County, Pennsylvania (he’s now the county’s chief public defender). He arrived at Gitmo a “true believer,” eager to do his part in the war on terror. At one point, according to Vandeveld, he was the lead prosecutor on one-third of the cases the Office of Military Commissions was preparing to take to trial—but all it took was one to throw his life and belief system into turmoil.
Vandeveld had been assigned to prosecute Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan detainee accused of lobbing a grenade through the window of a Jeep carrying two Special Forces soldiers and their interpreter near Kabul. When Jawad was taken into custody in December 2002, he was just a teenager—and he’d been in Gitmo for about five years before Vandeveld inherited the case. As Vandeveld recalled in congressional testimony last summer, “To me, the case appeared to be as simple as the street crimes I had prosecuted by the dozens in civilian life, and seemed likely to produce a quick, clean conviction, and an unmarred early victory for the prosecution, vindicating the concept of the Guantanamo Military Commissions.”
But Vandeveld soon learned that the case wasn’t straightforward at all. For one, he discovered that the evidence against Jawad and other clients was in utter disarray, “scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases” and “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks vacated by prosecutors who had departed the Commissions for other assignments.” He also began to uncover information that gave him grave doubts not just about the Jawad case, but about the entire military commissions system. “Gathering the evidence against Mr. Jawad was like looking into Pandora’s box,” he testified. “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.”
Lt. Lt. Colonel Vandeveld is the seventh Gitmo Prosecutor to resign over ethical qualms.
If military commissions are unjustifiably not working then why does the Obama administration continue to use them? Why not use the civilian court system that has tried and sentenced over a hundred terrorist? Why must we, a nation of laws, change our legal system? We are falling into the trap. The terrorist want us to change are ways. The terrorist want us to look like the hypocrites we are.