!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Office of Military Commissions (OMC)
Office of Military Commissions (OMC) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo, resigns his position after becoming increasingly disillusioned and despondent over the treatment of detainees at the facility, many of whom he believes are likely innocent.
A Reluctant Believer in Stories of Abuse - Vandeveld began as an enthusiastic prosecutor. He joined to help avenge the 9/11 attacks, and served for seven years as a military lawyer in Bosnia, Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “All of us fought because we believed that we were protecting America and its ideals,” he will later write. “But my final tour of duty made me question everything we had done.” Vandeveld was a prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions in Guantanamo from June 2007 through September 2008. He will write, “Warning signs appeared early on, but I ignored them.” He was powerfully impressed when his superior officer, Colonel Morris Davis, resigned rather than agree to pursue politically motivated prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). Vandeveld’s own turning point came when he began working on the prosecution of Mohammed Jawad, who was 16 at the time he was captured (see December 17, 2002). When Vandeveld learned that Jawad claimed to have been horrifically abused while in US custody, as he later recalls: “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 defense attorney, whom I suspected of being a terrorist sympathizer.” He came to change his mind, eventually filing a declaration in federal court “stating that it is impossible to prepare a fair prosecution against detainees at Guantanamo Bay (see January 13, 2009).… I had concluded that the system of handling evidence is a haphazard farce. I saw this clearly with Jawad.” Vandeveld will write that he has seen evidence proving both Jawad’s age and his stories of being brutalized, including beatings, being thrown down a flight of stairs, and being subjected to an intense program of sleep deprivation (see June 19, 2008): “As a juvenile, Jawad should have been treated with care, held separately from the adult population, and provided educational and other rehabilitation services. Instead, he was placed in isolation and deprived of sleep. More than once he tried to commit suicide, according to detainee records” (see December 2003).
Torturing an Innocent Man - Vandeveld began combing through evidence suggesting that Jawad was innocent, and found that not only had Jawad been duped and drugged by the terrorists who recruited him, the evidence shows that he never carried out the attack against US soldiers of which he stands accused. Vandeveld writes of the difficulties he had in gathering the evidence; military investigators repeatedly kept it from him. “Only after long delays and many, many requests was it finally given to me,” he will later write, “because even after nearly seven years, the military commissions do not have a system in place for discovering exculpatory evidence or providing it to the defense” (see January 20, 2009).
Sinking into Despair - Vandeveld began working towards Jawad’s release to his family in Afghanistan. But Vandeveld’s superiors refused to countenance the idea. Vandeveld will write of his increasing depression and despair, and his inability to discuss his mental anguish with his family or friends due to the classified nature of the case. He finally turned to a Jesuit priest, Father John Dear, whom, he writes, “has written and spoken widely about justice.” He could not give Dear more than an overview of the situation, but Dear’s advice was blunt. “Quit Gitmo,” Dear told him. “The whole world knows it is a farce. Refuse to cooperate with evil, and start your life over.” But Vandeveld was afraid to take Dear’s advice. As he recalls, “I was afraid of losing friends, my job, whatever popularity I enjoyed, and my status as someone who was well thought of in this community.”
Resignation - It was Dear and, ironically, Jawad’s defense lawyer, whom Vandeveld descirbes as “a scorned adversary whose integrity and intelligence transformed him into a trusted friend,” who finally led Vandeveld to make a decision: he resigns. His final appearance before the Guantanamo military commissions was as a witness in Jawad’s defense (see January 13, 2009). “My testimony was a confession of sorts,” he later writes, “an acknowledgment of the error of my own ways as well as a candid admission of the shortcomings of the system that I had so enthusiastically supported.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009] Vandeveld will write that Guantanamo has become a “stain” on the US’s international reputation (see January 18, 2009). He will also call for Jawad’s release (see January 13, 2009).
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.