The Pentagon acknowledged on Monday that two former members of the military team handling prosecutions of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, alleged last year that the trial system was rigged in favor of the government.
Officials said the prosecutors’ claims of ethical lapses and potential criminal acts had been reviewed and dismissed as unfounded. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said an investigation determined they were “much ado about nothing.”
In a later written statement, the Pentagon said an “operational assessment” of the chief prosecutor’s office _ undertaken in response to the allegations _ recommended a restructuring, including unspecified personnel changes.
The allegations by Air Force Maj. John Carr, who was then a captain, and Air Force Maj. Robert Preston were first reported by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on Monday. Both newspapers quoted from March 2004 internal e-mails written by Carr and Preston that detailed the allegations.
Copies of the e-mails, as well as an electronic message written by then-chief prosecutor Army Col. Fred Borch, were provided to The Associated Press by the American Civil Liberties Union and authenticated by a Pentagon official.
Among other charges, Carr and Preston alleged that the office of the chief prosecutor had deliberately misled senior civilian Pentagon officials about the quality of evidence against the initial defendants and that inadequate efforts had been made by the prosecutor’s office to ensure full and fair trials.
Di Rita, senior spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said the allegations were thoroughly investigated by the Defense Department inspector general.
“The allegations were serious and the issue is a serious one. The inspector general concluded that it was much ado about nothing, that the individuals that had made the allegations couldn’t substantiate their allegations, and everybody moved on. That matter was thoroughly vetted, and it’s closed,” Di Rita said.
In an e-mail note to his staff, Borch said the allegations against him by Carr and Preston were “monstrous lies.”
“I am convinced to the depth of my soul that all of us on the prosecution team are truly dedicated to the mission of the Office of Military Commissions _ and that no one on the team has anything but the highest ethical principles,” Borch wrote.
Preston and Carr, who have since left that office, accused fellow prosecutors of ignoring torture allegations, failing to protect evidence that could help defendants establish a defense and withholding information from superiors.
Carr asserted that the chief prosecutor had told subordinates that the members of the military commission that would try the first four defendants would be “handpicked” to ensure that all would be convicted.
Carr also said in his message that he had been told that any information that could help the defendants would probably exist only in the 10 percent of documents being withheld by the CIA for security reasons.
The ACLU, which has criticized the military trial system, said the Carr and Preston allegations were further evidence that the Pentagon should scrap the system and instead try the alleged terrorists under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which provides fuller protection for the rights of the accused.
“Clearly the concerns raised by these two confirm what we’ve been saying from the beginning: (the Pentagon) rigged the system to render the result the Bush administration wants, which is conviction of these first accused, at any cost,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU.
The Pentagon-appointed lawyer for David Hicks, an Australian who is one of four Guantanamo Bay detainees whose cases were the first to go to trial, was quoted by Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday as saying the Australian government should withdraw its support for the trials, based on the Carr and Preston allegations.
“When you look at the system and how it is operating and you look at the information that has just come out, I would hope that they would say enough’s enough,” the lawyer, Maj. Michael Mori, was quoted as saying.
Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock said he had not heard of the allegations until Monday.
“I will look into those issues,” Ruddock told reporters in Canberra. “The Americans have dealt with some of those matters and said they lacked veracity. I’ll have (a) look at it and see whether I want to say the same thing _ at this stage, I can’t.”
Di Rita, the Rumsfeld spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon that although the inspector general found the Carr and Preston allegations to be without merit, the Pentagon was looking at possible changes to the trial system.
“We’re looking _ we’re always looking _ to see if there are modifications that might be needed to the procedures” before the trials resume, Di Rita said. They were halted last November when a federal court ruled that the procedures violated due process and U.S. government obligations under the Geneva Conventions.
In July, a three-judge federal appeals court panel reversed the lower court ruling, saying the proceedings were lawful. The Pentagon has not said how soon it intends to resume the trials.
On the Net:
Pentagon information on military trials at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/commissions_priority.html