AP | A Pentagon official said Wednesday he will not resign as legal adviser to war-crimes tribunals at Guantanamo, despite his removal from the trial of Osama bin Laden’s driver because of a lack of impartiality.
But Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann left open the possibility that he could step aside if questions about his neutrality bog down other cases.
“I am the legal adviser today. We take it one day at a time,” Hartmann said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Last week, a military judge barred Hartmann from participating in the case against Salim Hamdan – the Guantanamo inmate expected to be the first to go to trial – because he aligned himself too closely with prosecutors. Hartmann said he will abide by the judge’s ruling and noted that he did not testify in the Hamdan case.
Defense lawyers have signaled they will allege improper influence in other cases as well, meaning there could be a spate of setbacks for the already delayed war crimes tribunals.
Nonetheless, Hartmann said he remains focused on making progress in moving the tribunals forward, pointing to formal charges announced this week against confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators. Their arraignment has been scheduled for June 5 at the U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba.
“The focus should not go away from the fact that these five cases are going ahead jointly,” he said.
Hartmann supervises the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo and has extensive powers over the tribunal system in his role as adviser.
At an April 28 hearing at Guantanamo, former chief prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris Davis testified that Hartmann meddled in his office and pushed for certain cases to be pursued over others based on political considerations. Davis resigned in October.
But Hartmann said in the interview that he operated within his mandate by ensuring that prosecutors were properly trained and motivated in an office “that was not functioning at its peak.”
The U.S. says it plans to prosecute about 80 of the roughly 270 men held at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to terrorism, al-Qaida or the Taliban.