Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Say, What?

Now here's a stunning bit of news: the judge presiding over the Military Commission "trial" of the Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with conspiracy in the 9/11 attack has suddenly retired. From that WaPo article:

The chief military judge at Guantanamo Bay announced his immediate retirement yesterday, effectively scuttling the slim chances that the trial of conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks could get underway before the Bush administration ends.

Judge Ralph H. Kohlmann, a Marine colonel, had been overseeing proceedings against major defendants at the military prison in Cuba, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the attacks. It has long been a goal of some Pentagon officials, particularly those appointed by the Bush administration, to begin the capital trial of the Sept. 11 conspirators before leaving office.

Kohlmann, who was scheduled to retire in April and already had lined up a job, appointed Judge Stephen Henley, an Army colonel, to take over the trial of Mohammed and four co-defendants. ...

At a hearing in September, Kohlmann rejected a motion by Mohammed that the judge disqualify himself because his imminent retirement could disrupt the process.

Kohlmann, who is responsible for appointing judges to cases at Guantanamo, selected himself for the 9/11 proceeding. He said in September that Mohammed's claims were "completely wrong" and rejected the motion.

So, what's the deal? Why the departure six months ahead of schedule? That's unknown. The article indicates that Major Kohlmann had not returned the Pentagon's phone calls on the matter. Perhaps Kohlmann's new employer wanted him to start earlier, or without the onus of having presided over one of the sham trials. Or perhaps the major wanted to spend some time with his family. Or maybe his conscience was beginning to bother him. We don't know.

As interesting as such speculation is (and that's all it is, speculation), the real question is what this does to the trial in which he was engaged. One of the defense attorneys in the case suggests that it will delay matters. After all, the new judge has to be brought up to speed on the case and has to hold a hearing for the parties to determine whether he has any biases in the matter. The ACLU has suspects that it's a ploy by the Pentagon to actually speed things up by performing some kind of fancy end-around.

At this point it's hard to tell. What Major Kohlmann has done, however, is to keep the Military Commission proceedings and Guantanamo Bay in the news, and that, in the long run, is a good thing. It allows us to keep the pressure on President Elect Obama to keep his promise to close "Camp Justice" and to bring all of the detainees to the US for trials in the civilian courts where they have at least a chance for real justice.

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