No Comment — August 16, 2008, 6:25 pm

Military Judge Finds Political Manipulation in Gitmo, Again

The proceedings in the Guantánamo military commissions continue, and the professional participants continue to grapple with the poorly disguised efforts of the Bush Administration to fix the outcome. JAG attorneys active in the commissions have frequently cited Thomas W. Hartmann as the source of their concerns. Hartmann, whose civilian job is general counsel to Mxenergy Holdings Inc., the Stamford, Connecticut gas producer and distributor, was handpicked and brought out of the JAG reserves to serve as the Bush Administration’s stage manager for the Guantánamo productions. His formal position is as “legal advisor” to Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority. Crawford, a retired military judge, previously worked for Dick Cheney and is known as a crony of David Addington.

In concept, Hartmann plays a supervisory role over the process in an administrative sense. He is also supposed to review decisions of the commissions and make a recommendation to Crawford before he passes them on to her for finalization and approval. However, according to testimony taken in the Gitmo proceedings, Hartmann played his hand crudely from the outset. He appeared before a Senate committee suggesting repeatedly his belief that torture-induced evidence could be used, and denying that waterboarding was torture. His highly evasive performance caused Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to express disgust.

When the first charges were announced, Hartmann appeared on national television brandishing harsh labels and prejudging cases on which he was slated to exercise an appellate review function—raising questions under professional ethics rules which later fueled challenges against him.

As the cases proceeded, accounts of Hartmann’s bullying and intimidation of other lawyers participating in the process circulated. In the Salim Hamdan case, his involvement drew a challenge, and after the court heard evidence of Hartmann’s improper conduct that included specific allegations that he was jockeying to have cases publicized and tried “before the elections,” he was banned from involvement in the case. Hartmann refused to resign, and protested that he was doing precisely what was called for by his job description.

In the last week, Hartmann faced a second challenge in another case. The former chief prosecutor, Colonel Moe Davis, testified that Hartmann had lobbied hard for the prosecution of an Afghan detainee named Mohammed Jawad, apparently because Hartmann felt the case would play well to an American television audience. Davis was followed by Gen. Gregory Zanetti, who testified that Hartmann routinely bullied other attorneys and was inappropriately aggressive in pushing for prosecution of certain cases that he felt had media value. Zanetti concluded that Hartmann’s behavior was “abusive, bullying and unprofessional. . . pretty much across the board.” Consistent with his public remarks, Hartmann’s actions reflected a particular bias in favor of aggressive prosecution of cases which he feels could be exploited politically to the advantage of the Bush Administration.

The current chief prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris, defended Hartmann, stating that the issues raised reflected nothing more than “a superficial personality conflict.” Morris is Hartmann’s direct subordinate. Interestingly, this is the same defense that Hartmann adopted when his conduct became the subject of an internal Defense Department probe.

Now a second military judge, Col. Steve Henley, has ordered Hartmann’s removal from the proceedings, sustaining the accusations raised against him. In an order handed down on Friday, Hartmann was banned from participation in the case, and the defense counsel were advised that they could make submissions in their quest for access to exculpatory evidence directly to Crawford, bypassing Hartmann.

For an attorney to be formally admonished and removed from legal proceedings twice for unprofessional conduct is an extraordinary matter. However, Hartmann is defiant, insisting that his actions are proper. One wonders if the disciplinary authorities of the Connecticut bar are following these developments.

Update: Readers advise me over the weekend that Hartmann is not a member of the bar in the state in which he most recently practiced, Connecticut, but he is admitted in Illinois and Missouri.

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