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Former prosecutor says Gitmo ruling wrecks US case

Associated Press
by Mike Melia
October 29, 2008

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The dismissal of a confession that a U.S. military judge said was tortured out of a young Afghan prisoner has "eviscerated" the government's case against him at Guantanamo Bay, the former case prosecutor said Wednesday.

The statements Mohammed Jawad made to Afghan officials following his capture in 2002 were among the most important evidence for his upcoming war crimes trial, said Darrel Vandeveld, who quit last month in a dispute over the handling of the case.

"To me, the case is not only eviscerated, it is now impossible to prosecute with any credibility," Vandeveld told The Associated Press.

Jawad is scheduled to face trial Jan. 5 on charges that he threw a grenade that injured two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter. He was 16 or 17 at the time of the attack.

The Army judge, Col. Stephen Henley, found in his ruling Tuesday that the Afghan authorities who first interrogated Jawad at a Kabul police station were armed and threatened to kill him and his family if he did not confess.

The military tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeast Cuba allow evidence obtained through coercion but not torture, leaving it up to judge to decide when the line is crossed. In this case, Henley said the death threat was credible enough to amount to torture.

The chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said Wednesday that he needed more time to study the ruling before saying how it will affect the case.

The torture ruling marks the latest controversy in a case that has produced evidence of sleep deprivation at Guantanamo, questions about the appropriate treatment of a minor and Vandeveld's claim last month that the government has withheld evidence helpful to detainees.

Military prosecutors have denied the allegations of abuse and evidence suppression.

The ruling "is further evidence that the charges against Mohammed Jawad should be dismissed, and the sham proceedings against him in Guantanamo Bay should end," Carol Chodroff of Human Rights Watch said.

Jawad made the disqualified statements on Dec. 17, 2002, to officials including the Afghan Interior Minister.

Vandeveld, a lieutenant colonel in the Army reserves, said other incriminating statements that Jawad made in U.S. custody at Bagram, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo are unusable because "they were clearly tainted by mistreatment."

He said that leaves only statements that Jawad made shortly after he entered U.S. custody, but those are also plagued by problems. For example, he said the interrogators' reports and a videorecording of the questioning have been lost.

Jawad faces a maximum life sentence if convicted on charges including attempted murder. U.S. military prosecutors say they plan trials for 80 of the roughly 255 men held at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

Associated Press writer David McFadden contributed to this report from the Guantanamo Bay Navy Base, Cuba.

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