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Profile: Morris Davis
Morris Davis was a participant or observer in the following events:
Air Force Colonel Morris Davis. [Source: US Department of Defense]Politically motivated officials at the Pentagon push for convictions of high-profile detainees ahead of the 2008 elections, according to Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, lead prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay. Davis, whose later resignation is partially caused by this pressure (see July 2007), says the strategic political value of such trials is discussed at a meeting on this day, and that officials prefer “sexy” cases, rather than those that are most solid or ready to go. Davis will later say: “There was a big concern that the election of 2008 is coming up.… People wanted to get the cases going. There was a rush to get high-interest cases into court at the expense of openness.” [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Davis specifically alleges that Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England says to him and other lawyers, “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election.” [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes, whose involvement with a set of documents known as the “torture memos” threatens his nomination as an appellate court judge (see November 27, 2002), telephones Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor at Guantanamo, to pressure Davis to charge accused Australian terror suspect David Hicks. Haynes is apparently attempting to do a political favor for Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Haynes is advised that his interference is improper, but calls Davis a second time and suggests that Davis charge other prisoners along with Hicks to avoid any impression that the charges are “a political solution to the Hicks case.” Davis will resign in part because of pressure from Washington to politicize his prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
General Thomas Hartmann allegedly interfered with Guantanamo Bay prosecutions. [Source: US Air Force]A new legal adviser to military commission hearings for detainees in Guantanamo Bay, General Thomas Hartmann, interferes with prosecutions, angering lead prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis (see September 29, 2006). Davis says that Hartmann’s position as adviser to the convening authority for the trials means he should stay neutral, but instead Hartmann requests detailed information on pending cases, defines the sequence in which they will be brought, and gets involved in “nano-management.” A Pentagon review partially supports Davis, advising Hartmann that he should “diligently avoid aligning himself with the prosecutorial function so that he can objectively and independently provide cogent legal advice” to the official in charge of supervising the commissions. Hartmann also supports using classified evidence in closed court sessions, which Davis wants to avoid, because it might taint the trials in the eyes of international observers and make it seem that the trials are stacked against defendants. Davis also objects to all elements of the military commissions being put under the Defense Department’s general counsel, as he thinks this could lead to a conflict of interest, and this causes him to resign in October (see October 4, 2007). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007]
Air Force Colonel Morris Davis resigns his position as the lead counsel for the military commissions trials at Guantanamo after complaining that his authority in prosecutions is being usurped for political purposes (see October 19, 2007). In particular, Davis complains about interference by Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, a legal adviser at Guantanamo (see July 2007), and Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes (see October 4, 2007). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Davis planned on prosecuting as many as 80 of the Guantanamo detainees. There have been no trials so far, because the Supreme Court ruled the trials unconstitutional until they were reauthorized by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Davis has made headlines with outspoken support of the trials and his colorful characterizations of Guantanamo detainees. In March 2006, he compared detainees who challenged the trial system to vampires afraid of the harsh sunlight of US justice: “Remember if you dragged Dracula out into the sunlight, he melted? Well, that’s kind of the way it is trying to drag a detainee into the courtroom,” he told reporters. “But their day is coming.” [Miami Herald, 10/6/2007]
Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes assumes command of the military prosecutions at Guantanamo, a decision that infuriates lead prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. Haynes is promoted by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England; Haynes, a civilian lawyer, was blocked in his bid for a seat on an appellate court because of his connection to the now-infamous torture memos (see November 27, 2002). Davis, who opposes the use of such techniques as waterboarding and other “extreme interrogation techniques,” resigns within hours of Haynes’s promotion. Davis will later say that Haynes’ expanded powers were a key reason for his decision (see October 4, 2007).
“[T]he decision to give him command over the chief prosecutor’s office, in my view, cast a shadow over the integrity of military commissions,” he will write in a December 2007 op-ed explaining his decision (see December 10, 2007). Davis will also write that he has no confidence that military commissions can be used for fair trials if “political appointees like Haynes and [convening authority Susan] Crawford” are in charge: “The president first authorized military commissions in November 2001, more than six years ago, and the lack of progress is obvious. Only one war-crime case has been completed. It is time for the political appointees who created this quagmire to let go. Sen[ators] John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said that how we treat the enemy says more about us than it does about him. If we want these military commissions to say anything good about us, it’s time to take the politics out of military commissions, give the military control over the process and make the proceedings open and transparent.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2007] In 2009, one of Davis’s subordinates, prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, will confirm Davis’s story (see January 18, 2009). He will recall Davis complaining of “being bullied by political appointees in the Bush administration.” Vandeveld will write that Davis resigned rather than bring prosecutions before they were ready to proceed, especially since, as Davis believed, the prosecutions were for political purposes. [Washington Post, 1/18/2009]
The former lead prosecutor for terrorism tribunals at Guantanamo, Colonel Morris Davis, tells reporters that senior officials at the Pentagon pushed for convictions of high-profile detainees before the November 2008 presidential elections, placing politics ahead of duty. Davis says that the pressure from the Pentagon played a part in his decision to resign (see October 4, 2007). Davis says senior Defense Department officials discussed the “strategic political value” of putting some prominent detainees on trial in a September 2006 meeting (see September 29, 2006). Davis also says he objected to newly appointed senior officials’ insistence on using classified evidence in closed sessions of court, and to the military commissions being put under Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes (see October 4, 2007).
'Less than Full, Fair and Open' - Davis had serious concerns about the use of classified evidence, due to worries it could be seen to be tainting trials. Davis says that since Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann’s arrival as legal adviser to the convening authority in the summer of 2007, Hartmann has attempted to speed up trials that will engage media attention and show the public that the process works (see July 2007). “He said, the way we were going to validate the system was by getting convictions and good sentences,” Davis says. “I felt I was being pressured to do something less than full, fair and open.” [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Pentagon regulations require the legal adviser to be an impartial administration and not an arm of the prosecution.
'Political Commission' - Law professor Marc Falkoff, who represents some of the Guantanamo detainees, will observe that the interference Davis cites “is a patent violation of Rule 104 of the Manual for Military Commissions and Section 949b of the Military Commissions Act, both of which make it unlawful to ‘attempt to coerce or, by any unauthorized means, influence… the exercise of professional judgment by trial counsel or defense counsel.’” Falkoff notes that in the Supreme Court’s Hamdan verdict (see June 30, 2006), Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically disapproved of the first military commissions because they lacked “the safeguards that are important to the fairness of the proceedings and the independence of the court.” Davis says, “[A]s things stand right now, I think it’s a disgrace to call it a military commission—it’s a political commission.” [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
Marc Falkoff. [Source: Northern Illinois University]Law professor Marc Falkoff, who represents some of the Guantanamo terror suspects, says that the resignation of Colonel Morris Davis as the lead prosecutor in the Guantanamo military commissions trials (see October 4, 2007) is important not just because only 80 of the 350 detainees are slated to be tried, leaving the other 270 in what Falkoff calls a “legal limbo, subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial or any court oversight for the duration of the war on terror,” but because of Davis’s revelations that the commissions have been tainted by political considerations. Davis’s resignation “may finally signal to the American public that politics rather than principle reigns at Guantanamo, and that decisions about the administration of justice at the camp are being made—largely outside of public view and without accountability—by political actors for nakedly political reasons.” As an example, Falkoff notes that every European in custody has been returned to their home countries, but 90% of the Yemenis in detention remain in custody even though many have been cleared for release by the US military. Falkoff says that he and his colleagues have for over three years visited their clients in Guantanamo to bring them what he calls “good news” about the court victories they have won. Falkoff writes, “To a man, upon hearing our news, our clients have smiled politely and shrugged, pointing out to us that they still have not had their day in court and that they still are not treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions. ‘You have to understand,’ they tell us, ‘this is all a big game.’ More and more, I am starting to think they are right.” [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
Colonel Morris Davis, the former head of the Office of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, writes in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that he resigned (see October 4, 2007) because he “concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system.” He adds that, “I felt that the system had become deeply politicized and that I could no longer do my job effectively or responsibly.” Davis writes that while the legitimacy of the military commissions rests on the belief that they are being conducted fairly and honestly, the political appointee who is now the “convening authority,” Susan Crawford, is “not living up to that obligation.” The convening authority has “no counterpart in civilian courts,” Davis explains, and has great powers over certain aspects of prosecutions, such as which charges go to trial, which are dismissed, who serves on the jury, and whether to approve requests for experts, and reassesses findings of guilt and sentences. The position is mandated by law to be absolutely impartial, favoring neither prosecutions or defendants. While Crawford’s predecessor conducted himself with the required impartiality: “Crawford, on the other hand, had her staff assessing evidence before the filing of charges, directing the prosecution’s pretrial preparation of cases… drafting charges against those who were accused and assigning prosecutors to cases, among other things. How can you direct someone to do something—use specific evidence to bring specific charges against a specific person at a specific time, for instance—and later make an impartial assessment of whether they behaved properly? Intermingling convening authority and prosecutor roles perpetuates the perception of a rigged process stacked against the accused.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2007]
Morris Davis, the former lead prosecutor for the Guantanamo military commissions who resigned in October (see October 4, 2007), tells interviewer Dan Rather that the upcoming prosecutions at Guantanamo are largely driven by political concerns (see October 19, 2007). “I think the big fear that was expressed was if Hillary Clinton wins the White House [in 2008]—this whole show goes away, and Guantanamo is shut down.… So, there’s a distrust of the military. And you’ve got political involvement. What I’ve seen in this process is that if you combine—ya know, excessive—arrogance with excessive ignorance—you wind up with six years later with—one guilty plea done.” [Business Wire, 12/14/2007]
Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, says that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 presidential campaign. In a court brief filed on this day, Mizer describes a September 29, 2006 meeting at the Pentagon where Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England asked lawyers to consider 9/11-related prosecutions in light of the upcoming presidential campaign. “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,” England is quoted as saying (see September 29, 2006). Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refuses to discuss specifics of the case, but says that the Pentagon “has always been extraordinarily careful to guard against any unlawful command influence” in upcoming military commissions trials. Mizer says that because of England’s instructions, and other examples of alleged political interference, his client cannot get a fair trial. Three weeks before England’s observation about the “strategic political value” of the trials, President Bush disclosed that he had ordered the CIA to transfer “high-value detainees” from years of secret custody to Guantanamo for trial.
Issues 'Scrambled' - Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says the Hamdan motion exposes the problem of Pentagon appointees’ supervisory relationship to the war court. “It scrambles relationships that ought to be kept clear,” he says. England’s statement, says Fidell, is “enough that you’d want to hold an evidentiary hearing about it, with live witnesses. It does strike me as disturbing for there to be even a whiff of political considerations in what should be a quasi-judicial determination.” Susan Crawford is the White House-appointed supervisor for the court proceedings; England is a two-term White House appointee who has supervised the prison camps’ administrative processes. Crawford, England, and other White House officials have crossed the legal barriers that separate various functions of a military court, Mizer argues. Mizer plans to call the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo trials, Morris Davis (see October 4, 2007), who first brought the England remark to light. Davis resigned his position after contending that political influence was interfering with the proper legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of accused war criminals.
Motion for Dismissal - Mizer’s motion asks the judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, to dismiss the case against Hamdan as an alleged 9/11 co-conspirator on the grounds that Bush administration officials have exerted “unlawful command influence.” Hamdan is a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose lawyers successfully challenged an earlier war court format (see June 30, 2006). Hamdan’s case is on track to be the first full-scale US war crimes tribunal since World War II. [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Eugene R. Fidell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bryan Whitman, Brian Mizer, George W. Bush, Gordon England, Keith Allred, US Department of Defense, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Susan Crawford, Morris Davis, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
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