[Pnews] Gitmo Judge Convicts U.S. General—Because He Stood Up for Detainee Rights

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 2 12:08:39 EDT 2017


  Gitmo Judge Convicts U.S. General—Because He Stood Up for Detainee Rights

    Brigadier General John Baker protested the government’s surveillance
    of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers. And that got him sentenced to 21
    days in confinement.

Spencer Ackerman <https://www.thedailybeast.com/author/spencer-ackerman> 
- 11.01.17

The Guantanamo Bay 
military tribunals on Wednesday won their first conviction without a 
plea deal since 2008. Only it wasn’t a terrorist who was convicted – it 
was a one-star Marine general sticking up for the rights of the accused 
to have a fair trial.

In defending the principle that attorneys ought to be able to defend 
their clients free from government surveillance, Brigadier General John 
Baker was ruled in contempt of court and sentenced to 21 days in 
confinement. He also must pay a $1000 fine.

Baker is a senior officer within in the highly controversial military 
commissions process: the Chief of Defense Counsel. Maj. Ben Sakrisson, 
the Pentagon spokesman for detentions, confirmed that Baker is being 
confined in his quarters – at Guantanamo Bay.

“The military commissions are willing to put people in jail for 
defending the rule of law,” Jay Connell, who represents another 
Guantanamo detainee facing a military commission, told The Daily Beast. 
“If they’re willing to put a Marine general in jail for standing up for 
a client’s rights, they’re willing to do just anything.”

Baker’s sentence Wednesday was first reported by Carol Rosenberg of the 
/Miami Herald/ 
/the only reporter actually at Guantanamo and who saw the hearing. He 
outranks the judge who sentenced him, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath.

The shocking development at Guantanamo, described as a “national 
disgrace and an embarrassment 
by the executive director of the National Association of Criminal 
Defense Lawyers, came on the same day President Donald Trump publicly 
mulled detaining accused New York terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov at 
(As a lawful permanent resident, Saipov is likely ineligible for a 
war-crimes trial under the 2009 Military Commission Act, which specified 
the court is for non-Americans, even if the Pentagon decided his alleged 
acts rose to the level of a war crime.)

The path that led to Baker’s contempt confinement started with a group 
resignation and a clash with Spath.

Earlier this month, three civilian attorneys for Abd al-Rahim 
al-Nashiri, the accused bomber of the USS Cole in 2000, abruptly quit 
the death-penalty case. The attorneys said that they had significant 
reason to believe the government was listening in to their 
communications. Spath, the judge in the Nashiri case, barred them from 
discussing the issue with Nashiri, since it was classified. Nashiri had 
lost his lawyers without ever knowing exactly why.

It is not the first time that concerns over government spying have 
rocked the Guantanamo military tribunals. In 2014, pre-trial hearings 
for the accused 9/11 co-conspirators snarled after defense attorneys 
revealed indications that the FBI had turned their technical adviserinto 
a secret informant 
prompting the judge in that case to prohibit monitoring attorney-client 
communications in November 2016. And in 2013, in the same case, the CIA 
cut the audio feed at the war court 
before an attorney discussed an aspect of the defendants’ confinement at 
undisclosed CIA “black site” prisons.”

Baker supported the Nashiri attorneys’ decision to quit – and believed 
he, as chief defense counsel, had all sufficient authority to permit 
them to walk. Baker released them on October 11. But, facing the 
prospect of the Nashiri death-penalty commission snarling to a halt, 
Spath disagreed, and ordered them to return to Guantanamo.

Instead, Baker showed up at the war court this week, without now 
ex-Nashiri attorney Rick Kammen and Kammen’s team. Spath instructed 
Baker to change his mind and instruct Kammen and the two other attorneys 
that they still represent Nashiri. Baker did not, believing that Spath 
lacked the authority to do so. On Wednesday, Spath held Baker in 
contempt and ordered him to 21 days’ confinement in his Guantanamo 

Connell, who represents 9/11 co-defendant Ammar al-Baluchi, said all 
this could have been avoided had the government simply not spied on the 
Nashiri team, “or allowed the defense counsel to discuss this issue with 
their client.” He added that Baker’s sentencing did not settle the issue 
of who in the military commissions process – a judge in a specific case, 
or the Chief of Defense Counsel – has final say over an attorney quitting.

“It will come up again the next time someone tries to resign or 
otherwise leave the case,” Connell said. He did not know if other 
Guantanamo defense lawyers would resign in protest.

Baker had a history of supporting unmonitored attorney communications, 
which are a bedrock principle of civilian trials. In June, shortly after 
learning of the suspected surveillance on the Nashiri lawyers, he 
advised defense attorneys “not to conduct any attorney-client meetings 
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO), until they know with certainty that 
improper monitoring of such meetings is not occurring,” according to a 
letter obtained by the Miami Herald. 

“At present,” Baker continued, “I am not confident that the prohibition 
on improper monitoring of attorney-client meetings at GTMO as ordered by 
the commission is being followed.”

It’s possible that Baker won’t serve out his sentence. Harvey Rishikov, 
the convening authority of the military commissions, “will determine 
whether to affirm, defer, suspend or disapprove the sentence in the next 
few days,” the Pentagon’s Sakrisson said.
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