GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - Canadian Omar Khadr is the one facing prosecution for war crimes but it was the actions of top Pentagon official U.S. Air Force Brig.-Gen. Thomas Hartmann that were probed during pre-trial hearings this week.
Guantanamo's former chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Moe Davis, alleged Hartmann pushed prosecutors to lay charges in cases that weren't ready in the hopes of getting the trials started before the U.S. presidential election this fall.
"In his mind he was large and in charge," Davis testified by video from the Pentagon about his former boss.
"He became the de facto chief prosecutor."
Davis, once the Pentagon's most ardent supporter of the military trials of Guantanamo detainees, resigned as chief prosecutor in October, saying he could no longer support prosecutions he believed were tainted by politics.
The debate about the independence and fairness of the trials could prove important in Khadr's case.
His lawyers argue the charges should be thrown out due to Hartmann's improper political influence. Failing that, they want Hartmann disqualified from any further involvement in the case.
Khadr, 21, is charged with five war crimes, including the alleged murder of Sgt. Christopher Speer, who was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002.
The charges are covered by the Military Commissions Act, which became law in 2006.
The new legislation created an office known as the "convening authority," which was intended to be a neutral arbiter between the defence and prosecution. Hartmann is the current legal adviser to the convening authority.
In closing arguments yesterday, Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Rebecca Snyder, told presiding military judge Army Col. Patrick Parrish that Hartmann "has abandoned his objectivity" and his influence should disqualify the entire judicial system.
Col. Lawrence Morris, who replaced Davis as chief prosecutor, said the issue was nothing more than a personality dispute between Davis and Hartmann.
"This is a courtroom, not a sentencing session on someone's leadership style," Morris told Parrish.
Hartmann testified via video on Wednesday and denied Davis' allegations, adding he has had very little to do with Khadr's case.
Parrish has not ruled on the motion concerning Hartmann's influence, or others presented by the defence over the two days of hearings.
In another case, involving Afghan detainee Mohammed Jawad, a military judge yesterday granted the defence's request to remove Hartmann from that case.
Parrish is expected to respond by the weekend to Khadr's lawyers request to grant an independent psychiatrist and psychologist access to the base to examine their client.
The Pentagon has offered to have Khadr assessed by military doctors but his lawyers objected, stating that physicians here involved in the interrogation of detainees should not be the ones now conducting mental evaluations.
The issue revives the debate concerning the medical ethics of doctors working with prisoners at the U.S. prison here.
Military doctors aided interrogators in conducting and refining programs for questioning terrorism suspects, which included advice on how to increase their stress and exploit their fears.
Doctors have also conducted force-feedings of detainees who have waged prolonged hunger strikes.
Their actions were widely condemned by the medical community, who accused the doctors of violating their ethical and moral obligations.
Khadr faces a September hearing in advance of his Oct. 8 trial.
© 2008 The Toronto Star