Guantanamo Defense Attorneys Accuse Congress of Unlawful Influence
Criminal Justice Tainted by Political Criticisms
Members of Congress might have converted the trials of accused al Qaeda terrorists into more of a religious dispute than a criminal trial with their comments Oct. 27 during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
They called a judge’s order banning female guards from touching the Muslim detainees at the military’s Guantanamo detention facility outrageous, according to a report by The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net).
The military judge issued the order as an accommodation to Muslim traditions that forbid men from being touched by women other than their wives and relatives.
Statements from politicians about criminal proceedings are not new but they have jeopardized the outcome of proceedings in Washington’s federal and local courts.
Critical political statements create the image that a prosecution is politically motivated, raising questions about whether the defendant’s 14th Amendment rights to equal protection were violated.
Similar issues arose during the 2008 prosecution on fraud charges of former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. He was convicted by a jury but the conviction was overturned because of misconduct by prosecutors who hid exculpatory evidence.
Stevens’ attorneys argued the prosecution was compelled by the political ambitions of overly aggressive prosecutors.
In the case of the al Qaeda members accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, their defense attorneys said the members of Congress and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter committed unlawful influence.
They said Judge Army Col. James Pohl might need to recuse himself because Carter could have him removed from his job, thereby indirectly exerting influence over the trial.
It is outrageous, Carter said during the Oct. 27 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. When [U.S. Southern Command leader ] General [John F.] Kelly said this was pursuant to action of a federal judge, and I understand that, but I think it is counter to the way we treat service members, including women service members and outrage is a very good word for it.
The female guards said the order banning them from touching detainees violated their equal employment rights.
Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire also referred to the court order as outrageous.
Major Derek A. Poteet, an attorney representing alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said the comments in Congress strike at the heart of the independence of the judiciary. He asked for a thorough investigation into the unlawful influence and whether Congress and the Obama administration might be trying to influence the trials.
The judge denied his request.