A Marine brigadier general in charge of war court defense teams faces 21 days of confinement after being found guilty of contempt of court by an Air Force colonel for refusing to testify about releasing three civilian attorneys from the defense team for the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing for a secret ethics conflict involving attorney-client privilege.
Brig. Gen. John Baker has refused to testify or return lawyers to the case, attempting to tell the judge, Col. Vance Spath, that the war court’s attempt to try alleged terrorists who are not U.S. citizens had no jurisdiction over him, originally reported by the Miami Herald.
Spath ruled that Baker’s decision to release the three civilian, Pentagon-paid attorneys from the case was “null and void” and ordered the three to testify before him either in person or video feed next week.
The USS Cole bombing in October 2000 resulted in 17 sailors being killed and 39 injured when a small, fiberglass boat piloted by two suicide bombers exploded near the hull of the ship as it was refueling at the Aden harbor in Yemen.
The three attorneys, Rick Kammen, Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears, quit the case last month. Kammen had represented the defendant, Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, since 2008.
The trio withdrew because they believed the government was listening in on their legal meetings. Some information discussed in the meetings was classified so they could not explain it to Nashiri or the public.
In a statement released following their decision, Kammen said, “We are angry about being placed in an ethically untenable position, disappointed in not being able to see the case through, and devastated to leave Mr. Nashiri, whom we genuinely like and who deserves a real chance for justice.”
In June, Baker told the attorneys he had “lost confidence” in the integrity of “all potential attorney-client meeting locations” at Guantanamo.
Baker has been a vocal critic of the military-federal justice system set up by President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001, attacks. He has called the military commissions a “farce” that resulted in “delay, government misconduct and incompetence and even more delay.”
Nashiri’s was the first death penalty case to go to trial under the military commission system instituted following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof, a senior official at the Pentagon, will review the contempt finding and sentence, Spath said in court. But until that happens, the judge ordered the one-star confined to his quarters, a room in a trailer at Camp Justice near the courtroom.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.