GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The U.S. military was so eager to get the sluggish Guantanamo war crimes trials moving that the legal adviser to the Pentagon overseer adopted a “spray and pray” approach to pursuing charges, a U.S. general testified on Wednesday.
“The strategy seemed to be spray and pray, let’s go, speed, speed, speed,” Army. Brig. Gen. Gregory Zanetti said. “Charge ‘em, charge ‘em, charge ‘em and let’s pray that we can pull this off.”
Zanetti, the deputy commander of the military task force that runs the Guantanamo detention operation, testified in a pretrial hearing for Mohammed Jawad.
The Afghan prisoner is accused of throwing a grenade into a U.S. military Jeep at a bazaar in Kabul in December 2002, wounding two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter.
Jawad’s military lawyers said the charges should be dismissed because they were tainted by unlawful influence from Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the officer appointed to give impartial legal advice to the Pentagon official overseeing the war crimes tribunals at the U.S. military base in Cuba.
Wednesday’s testimony pitted one U.S. general against another, exposing some of the internal fractures within the military regarding a tribunal process long condemned by human rights advocates as corrupted by politics.
Testifying by video link from the Pentagon on Wednesday, Hartmann said he viewed it as his mission to get the trials moving but in a fair and transparent manner. He acknowledged telling prosecutors he wanted cases that would “capture the public’s imagination.”
GENERAL‘S CONTROVERSIAL ROLE
Lawyers for Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, succeeded in getting Hartmann banned from further involvement in that case before Hamdan’s trial began. Hamdan was convicted last week on charges of providing material support for terrorism and sentenced to 5-1/2 years in prison, most of which he has already served at Guantanamo.
That was the first full trial since the United States began sending suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners to Guantanamo in January 2002. The Pentagon plans to try as many as 80.
The former chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Moe Davis, testified in that case that Hartmann took over the prosecution office, demanding charges in “sexy” cases in which defendants had “blood on their hands” and dictating who would be charged and when.
Davis testified on Wednesday that Jawad’s case “went from the freezer to the frying pan thanks to Gen. Hartmann.”
He repeated allegations that prosecutors were pushed to file charges before the November U.S. presidential election against five prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks.
Zanetti characterized Hartmann as “abusive, bullying and unprofessional” and said he regularly delivered profanity-laced tirades that reduced an airborne ranger to “a puddle.”
He quoted Hartmann as saying he was “taking over this thing” and that he advised Guantanamo officers during videoconferences “who he was going to charge and when.”
Hartmann in his testimony said he did question prosecutors about the strengths and weaknesses of cases under consideration but never directed whom should be charged or with what.
Hartmann’s role is also the subject of a defense request to drop the charges against Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, who is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Speer with a hand grenade during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.
Pretrial hearings were held simultaneously on Wednesday for Jawad and Khadr, who both face life in prison if convicted on charges stemming from alleged actions as juveniles.
Hartmann acknowledged briefing Canadian government officials about Khadr’s case and providing them with copies of legal filings that had been mentioned in news reports.
The hearings continue on Thursday for Khadr who was 15 when captured and is now 21, and Jawad, who was 16 or 17 when captured and is now 23.
Editing by Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman