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Guantanamo prosecutor quits

The Army reservist was concerned about a lack of due process for war crimes defendant, defense attorneys say.

September 25, 2008|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — Contending that the government had suppressed evidence that could help a young man facing life in prison, a prosecutor has quit the war crimes tribunals here, several military defense lawyers said Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld quit the case -- and the Office of Military Commissions -- after growing increasingly concerned about the lack of due process afforded to Mohammed Jawad and his legal team, according to Michael J. Berrigan, deputy chief defense counsel for the commissions.

Vandeveld, an Army reservist, said in a four-page declaration filed with the court that "potentially exculpatory evidence has not been provided" to the defense.

Jawad, now about 23, was arrested in 2002 near Kabul. He is charged with attempting to commit murder in violation of the law of war for allegedly throwing a grenade into a jeep transporting troops, injuring two soldiers and an interpreter. His trial is set for December.

His Pentagon-appointed defense attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, also said that the prosecutor had quit in recent days over significant concerns about the case.

"He was uncomfortable being a prosecutor under the conditions, and [his superiors] told him to do his job," Berrigan said, adding that Vandeveld then took his concerns to higher authorities but was rebuffed.

Both defense lawyers said Vandeveld had spelled out his allegations in the sealed affidavit. Vandeveld said in his declaration that prosecutors knew Jawad may have been drugged before the attack and that the Afghan Interior Ministry said two other men had confessed to the same crime.

Hearings in Jawad's case are being held today and Friday. Frakt said he had moved to call Vandeveld as a defense witness; the prosecutor had indicated he would testify about his ethical concerns and about how he wanted to offer Jawad a plea deal that would allow him to walk free in the near future. But Vandeveld's superiors rejected the plea deal and blocked his testimony, Frakt said, adding that he would ask the judge, Army Col. Steve Henley, to compel him to testify.

The assertions by Berrigan and Frakt were denied Wednesday evening by Army Col. Lawrence J. Morris, lead prosecutor for the military commissions.

Morris said Vandeveld told him he was quitting for personal reasons, and he would not discuss whether his office had rejected any proposed plea deal for Jawad.

He described Vandeveld as a disgruntled prosecutor "who was disappointed that his superiors did not agree with his recommendations in the case." "There are no grounds for his ethical qualms," Morris said.

Several prosecutors have quit or asked to be reassigned in protest, including Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the military commissions. He went public with claims that he had been pressured by politically appointed senior Defense officials to pursue cases deemed "sexy" in the run-up to the 2008 elections.

The Jawad case is one of several in which the Pentagon's former legal advisor to military commissions, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, has been banned from playing an oversight role because of charges that he lost his neutrality by withholding exculpatory information in recommending the charges.

A Pentagon official said that Vandeveld had defended Hartmann against the undue-influence allegations in the Jawad case in recent weeks but lost, and that the general had retaliated against him, causing the prosecutor emotional distress and prompting him to quit and go public with his concerns. In his declaration, Vandeveld said military prosecutors routinely withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense in terrorism cases.

Jawad is one of about two dozen detainees facing charges in the Pentagon's specially designed system for prosecuting alleged terrorists.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com

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