25 Sep Gitmo Prosecutor Resigns as Act of Conscience
An Army prosecutor has resigned from the Guantánamo war court in a crisis of conscience over plans to try a young Afghan accused of throwing a grenade rather than settle the case out of court, according to an affidavit filed with the court Wednesday.
Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a reservist from the Pittsburgh area, becomes the fourth known prosecutor to quit the Pentagon’s controversial military commissions, which the Bush administration set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Now Vandeveld has written a four-page sworn declaration in which he says there is a risk of the case going to trial without the defense obtaining all “potentially exculpatory evidence.”
”In my view,” he wrote, “evidence we have an obligation as prosecutors and officers of the court has not been made available to the defense.”
Vandeveld also wrote that he has come to accept certain facts that could favor the defense in the case, so he asked to quit the prosecutor’s office and serve out his reserve duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
He wrote that Jawad was captured at 17 or younger, that he may have been duped by a former U.S. allied Afghan terror group, Hezb Islami Gulbuddin, into joining it and that ”it seems plausible to me that Jawad may have been drugged before the alleged attack,” on Dec. 17, 2002.
Rather than proceed with prosecution of a crime punishable by life in prison, he wrote, Vandeveld wanted to offer a plea agreement for Jawad to serve a short additional sentence, with rehabilitation “to reintegrate into either Afghan or Pakistani society.”
Jawad’s Pentagon-appointed defense counsel, Air Forces Reserves Maj. David Frakt, refused to comment on efforts to reach a pretrial agreement. At the tribunals, Frakt has cast Jawad as a former ”suicidal teenager” who was subjected to ”pointless and sadistic treatment” in U.S. custody.
In his affidavit, filed with the war court, Vandeveld declared himself troubled by Jawad’s treatment in U.S. custody, and said he had turned over to the defense documents that suggested the Afghan captive was subjected to Guantánamo’s sleep deprivation program, rather than segregated as a teen.
”I am a resolute Catholic and take as an article of faith that justice is defined as reparative and restorative,” he wrote, “and that Christ’s most radical pronouncement — command, if you will — is to love one’s enemies.”
Vandeveld’s boss disputed the showdown was anything more than an ordinary office dispute.
”I don’t think he has any ethical qualms of any consequence,” said the chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, who noted that rather than being reassigned Vandeveld was being released early from his reserve duty.
He cast Vandeveld as “somebody who is disappointed that his superiors didn’t see the wisdom of his recommendations in the case.”
I would be disappointed, too, if I realized that my superiors didn’t see the wisdom in giving a defendant facing life in prison a fair trial. Kudos to Lt. Col. Vandeveld for continuing the long and noble tradition of military lawyers willing to risk their careers in order to do justice. They are truly the unsung heroes in the ongoing charade that is the military commissions system.