Today, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, formerly the lead prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay, tells the Washington Post that “[p]olitically motivated officials at the Pentagon” are pushing for “convictions of high-profile detainees ahead of the 2008 elections”:
Senior defense officials discussed in a September 2006 meeting the “strategic political value” of putting some prominent detainees on trial, said Air Force Col. Morris Davis. He said that he felt pressure to pursue cases that were deemed “sexy” over those that prosecutors believed were the most solid or were ready to go. [...]
“There was a big concern that the election of 2008 is coming up,” Davis said. “People wanted to get the cases going. There was a rush to get high-interest cases into court at the expense of openness.”
Davis confirms that discomfort over these pressures prompted his resignation earlier this month. When originally asked why he was stepping down, Davis said that the Pentagon had ordered him “not to communicate with the news media about my resignation or military commissions.”
In the past, the Bush administration has repeatedly played politics with terrorism prosecutions. In 2002, The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh wrote that the Justice Department went after the case of 9/11 hijacker Zacharias Moussaoui as a “splashy” political trial at the expense of stronger smaller trials:
The Moussaoui case has also contributed to discontent within the F.B.I. over what some see as a politicized Justice Department more eager to have splashy court victories than to protect intelligence resources. One senior F.B.I. official noted, with obvious disdain, that the Justice Department attorneys wanted to use raw intelligence from sensitive, ongoing investigations to bolster otherwise flagging counterintelligence or counterterrorism criminal cases.
Politics also enters into the administration’s decision of which detainees get to leave the prison. For example, two dozen Guantanamo detainees were cleared for transfer last year “even though U.S. military panels found they still posed a threat to the United States and its allies.” “What it says on your passport is more important than what it says in your ARB [Administrative Review Board],” notes the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, underscoring “that European citizens at Guantanamo were among the first to get out.”