GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - The former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals testified Monday that the tribunals were tainted by political influence and by evidence obtained through prisoner abuse.
Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis, who quit the war court last year, said political appointees and higher-ranking officers pushed prosecutors to file charges before trial rules were even written.
A supposedly impartial legal advisor demanded they pursue cases where the defendant "had blood on his hands" because those would excite the public more than mundane cases against document forgers and Al Qaeda facilitators, Davis said.
He said the pressure rose after "high-value" prisoners allegedly connected to the Sept. 11 plot were moved to Guantanamo from secret CIA custody shortly before the 2006 congressional election.
"There was that consistent theme that if we didn't get this thing rolling before the election, it was going to implode," Davis testified in the courtroom at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba. "Once you got the victim families energized and the cases rolling, whoever won the White House would have difficulty stopping the proceeding."
Davis testified in a pretrial hearing for Osama bin Laden's driver, Yemeni prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan.
Defense lawyers asked the judge to throw out the charges on grounds that the tribunal process was too tainted to provide him a fair trial.
They summoned Davis -- who himself filed the charges against Hamdan -- to bolster their case.
When questioned by the new chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, Davis said he thought the charges against Hamdan were ethical and valid.
Davis has said publicly that he remains convinced Hamdan is guilty of conspiring with Al Qaeda.
"It was an extraordinary spectacle to see the former chief prosecutor testifying as the defense's star witness," said Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Hamdan is the prisoner whose lawsuit prompted the Supreme Court to strike down as illegal the initial Guantanamo war crimes system in 2006.
The charges against him were twice dismissed and then refiled, and the military hoped to begin his trial in late May.
Hamdan faces life in prison if convicted of conspiring with Al Qaeda and of providing material support for terrorism.
He has said he never joined Al Qaeda, had no advance knowledge of its attacks, and took a job as Bin Laden's driver only because he needed the $200 monthly salary for his family.
Prosecutors said that he was a trusted Al Qaeda member who helped Bin Laden escape U.S. forces in Afghanistan and that he had two anti- aircraft rockets in his car when he was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001.
Three other prosecutors quit the Guantanamo court in 2004 and said they thought the process was rigged to convict.
© 2008 Reuters