Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Getting It Right

Now that he has resigned, the military cannot silence him. A prosecutor at Gitmo is free to tell the truth, and has done it.

The tribunals used for putting suspects on trial at Guantanamo Bay are a "stain on America's military", a former military prosecutor has told the BBC in his first interview since resigning.

For Lt Col Darrel Vandeveld, a devout Catholic, the twin responsibilities of religious faith and military duty led to a profound moral crisis.

His resignation has led to charges against six inmates being dropped, at least for now, and called into question the possibility of a fair legal process at Guantanamo.

"I know so many fighting men and women who are stained by the taint of Guantanamo, so I'm here to tell the truth about Guantanamo and how a few people have sullied the American military and the constitution," he told me during an interview in his home town of Erie, Pennsylvania.

A reservist, Darrel Vandeveld was called up as a military lawyer after 9/11 and served in Iraq, Bosnia and Africa.

In 2007, he became a prosecutor for the military commissions which tried terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, a role he took enthusiastically.

"I went down there on a mission and my mission was to convict as many of these detainees as possible and put them in prison for as long as I possibly could," he told the BBC.

"I had zero doubts. I was a true believer."

But his zeal did not last long.

When he arrived, he says he found the prosecutor's office in chaos, with boxes scattered around the floor, files disorganised, evidence scattered in different places and no clear chain of command.

And more seriously, he soon discovered that defence lawyers were not receiving information which could help clear their clients, including evidence that suspects had been "mistreated" in order to secure confessions.

But eventually he did resign and has chosen to speak out about what he saw, giving the BBC his first interview.

"I never suffered such anguish in my life about anything," he says, looking back over the period.

"It took me too long to recognise that we had abandoned our American values and defiled our constitution."

The morally reprehensible job that has been given to our military to do at Gitmo has proved too objectionable before. Erik Saar served as an translator for interrogators there from December 2002 to June 2003, and found out early that the detainees had been for the most part arbitrarily turned in for money. He wrote about it in "Inside the Wire" and has toured the U.S. sharing his findings.

The damage done to the prisoners is irredeemable. That damage has entered into the U.S. servicepeople who carry out unjust punishment as well.

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