A lot of eyebrows were raised by the Pentagon's decision last week
to remove a judge presiding over a key war crimes tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.
Defense attorneys say the military judge was removed because he'd made several rulings in favor of the defendant, a Canadian national named Omar Khadr who was detained at the age of 15 in Afghanistan in 2002.
The military may also be pushing to convene Guantanamo's first terrorism trial -- sure to be a cable TV news event -- at the height of the presidential election season this fall, defense attorneys say
Now the military brass is getting defensive about the judge's removal.
The Miama Herald reports
Chief judge Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann said he was making the rare public statement because last week's dismissal of Col. Peter Brownback raised questions about the independence of military officers presiding over tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base in Cuba.
"Any suggestion that my detailing of another military judge was driven by or prompted by any decisions or rulings made by Colonel Brownback is incorrect," Kohlmann said in the statement e-mailed to reporters.
Kohlmann said the Army decided by February to let Brownback's active-duty service orders expire.
But that struck many observers as odd, since Brownback had offered to remain on the case as long as needed and had received three annual extensions during the past few years.
Kohlmann said the Army made its decision "based on a number of manpower management considerations" unrelated to the tribunals.
also notes the rising tension between the judge and the military prosecutors in the case.
At a May 8 hearing, Brownback said that he had "badgered, beaten and bruised" by prosecutors to set a trial date. But he refused to do so before they satisfied defense requests for access to potential evidence, even threatening to suspend the proceedings unless the detention center provided records of Khadr's confinement.
The judge's removal and the taint of political interference has sparked a lot of controversy in Canada, where there is growing pressure for the government to demand Khadr's repatriation if the case is not soon resolved.
Editorial writers at the Globe and Mail
, a Toronto-based national newspaper, appeared skeptical
of the Army's explanation.
Given what is at stake for the United States in this trial that is to test the new military-commissions process, given the request from the chief judge that Col. Brownback stay on, and given the strange timing after years of extensions, this explanation is not enough to allay the impression of political interference.
The [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper government insists it wants to let the process work, but as the judge's removal suggests, this is a questionable process.