U.S. News

Guantanamo prosecutor quits, citing ethics concerns

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The prosecutor in a Guantanamo war crimes case has asked to quit his assignment due to ethical concerns, defense attorneys and the lead military prosecutor said on Wednesday.

The departure would make at least four Guantanamo prosecutors who have left the job with misgivings about the fairness of the process, which has drawn international criticism as inhumane and unjust.

Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld gave notice within the last few weeks that he wanted to quit the prosecution team early and cited “personal reasons,” Col. Lawrence Morris, the Guantanamo military commissions chief prosecutor, told reporters.

The request was accepted and Vandeveld is winding down his involvement with the commission, Morris said. Vandeveld was prosecuting Afghan murder suspect Mohammed Jawad and the case will go on, Morris said.

But Morris acknowledged a defense affidavit in which, lawyers said, Vandeveld described concerns including that prosecutors withheld evidence that could help the accused.

“There are no grounds for his ethical qualms,” Morris said. “All you have is somebody who is disappointed that his superiors didn’t see the wisdom of his recommendations in the case.”

Said Michael Berrigan, the commissions’ deputy chief defense counsel, said “this has to do with multiple issues and the integrity of the process.”

Jawad’s lawyer, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, said he has asked the court to let Vandeveld testify in support of motions asking that the case be dismissed on the grounds of “outrageous government conduct.”

But prosecutors oppose the testimony. “There is nothing he has to say that is relevant in our view,” Morris said.

Vandeveld’s superiors had also rejected a proposal to settle the Jawad case and allow him to return soon to Afghanistan, Frakt said. Morris did not comment directly, but said he encouraged debate and differences in the office.

Vandeveld had vigorously presented the prosecution’s case in previous hearings -- at one point referring to a defense argument as “idiotic.” However, Frakt said, “his personal view of the case evolved over time as he came to know more details.”

Morris said Vandeveld “did an OK job as a prosecutor.”

Vandeveld declined through a commission representative to comment.

Jawad is charged in the Guantanamo tribunal with throwing a grenade into a U.S. military jeep at a bazaar in Kabul in December 2002, injuring two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter. He was 16 or 17 when Afghan police arrested him and turned him over to U.S. forces.

Earlier Guantanamo prosecutors to leave include former chief prosecutor Col. Moe Davis, who quit last October citing political interference, and left the military earlier this year.

In 2005, Air Force Majs. John A. Carr and Robert J. Preston quit the Guantanamo prosecution under an earlier structure and the two charged in e-mails published by media that the process was rigged and unfair.

Morris defended the Guantanamo commissions. “We are the most scrupulous organization you can imagine,” he said.

Reporting by Randall Mikkelsen, editing by Todd Eastham