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Colonel wants immunity

The ex-prosecutor says Guantanamo evidence was suppressed.

September 26, 2008|From the Associated Press

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — A former U.S. military prosecutor at Guantanamo, who accuses his superiors of suppressing evidence, refused Thursday to testify in a war crimes case unless he is granted immunity.

Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who was called as a defense witness, revealed a day earlier that he had quit over what he called ethical lapses by prosecutors.

His action has sent ripples throughout the U.S. military's tribunal system, with prosecutors dismissing his claims as "ridiculous" and defense attorneys seizing on them as proof the government does not share evidence in good faith.

Defense attorneys asked the judge to give Vandeveld immunity. "The suggestion he may have something criminal to hide is intriguing and suggests there is something very, very important this commission needs to get to the bottom of," said Air Force Maj. David Frakt, the Pentagon-appointed attorney for Mohammed Jawad.

Jawad, 23, faces charges including attempted murder for allegedly throwing a grenade that injured two American soldiers and their interpreter in Afghanistan in 2002. A conviction at his trial, which is scheduled to begin in December, could keep him in prison for life.

In his written declaration, Vandeveld said he was available and willing to testify for the defense. Prosecutors prevented him from traveling to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, but the judge agreed to have him testify by video link. It was not clear why he wanted immunity and an attorney.

Frakt told the judge Thursday that Pentagon officials are trying to discredit Vandeveld and block his testimony.

The officer who oversaw the tribunals until last week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, allegedly asked Vandeveld to get a psychiatric exam. But Frakt said the former prosecutor was evaluated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington last week and was cleared to stay on active duty.

"He is very intimately involved in the effort to prevent Col. Vandeveld from being able to testify," Frakt told the judge. Hartmann was disqualified from participating in the case last month for aligning himself too closely with prosecutors.

The chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo tribunals, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said Vandeveld's "ethical qualms" lacked foundation.

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