Jim Mattis fires lawyer overseeing Guantánamo trials
of 9/11 terrorists: Report
February 5, 2018
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday fired the top official overseeing the trials of five men being held at Guantánamo Bay who have been accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Harvey Rishikof is an attorney with experience in national security law, but with no military experience. According to the Miami Herald, there is no known reason for Mattis’ decision to fire the man he named convening authority for military commission last April.
Two Pentagon lawyers have replaced Rishikof and Gary Brown, a legal adviser for military commissions who was fired by acting general counsel William S. Castle.
Tom Crosson, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said the two men were removed from their positions on Monday.
President Trump has been critical of the speed at which trials by military commission moved. On Nov. 2 he tweeted that he wanted to send a suspected terrorist to Guantánamo, but it would take “much longer than going through the federal system.”
Rishikof was at the center of multiple controversial decisions, like suspending chief defense counsel Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, and rejecting a proposed charge sheet for three former CIA captives suspected of plotting terror attacks.
The Jurist added further information on this action by Secretary of Defense Mattis.
Harvey Rishikof, designated[text] by Mattis as the convening authority for military commissions in April 2017, and Gary Brown, the commission’s legal advisor. An attorney who previously served as legal counsel to the deputy director of the FBI, Richikof specialized in national security, civil and military courts, terrorism, and international law. He also held multiple positions in government focusing on cybersecurity investigations.
Replacing the two officials are retired Army colonel and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) attorney Jim Coyne as acting convening authority, and long-serving commission deputy Mark Toole as acting legal advisor.
This decision comes just two weeks before a captive turned government witness is due to return to Saudi Arabia to serve a terrorism sentence under a plea agreement approved by an earlier convening authority under the Obama administration.
Those removed are part of the Office of the Convening Authority which is responsible for the overall management of the military commissions process, including logistics and personnel support. The Convening Authority is empowered to convene military commissions, refer charges to trial, negotiate pre-trial agreements, and review records of trial. They also provide the accused an opportunity for clemency before taking action on the findings and sentence of all military commission cases.
LawDragon also brought more clarity to the problem in their February 6, 2018 post “Classified spills cost military commissions $100k per year, add to lawyer fatigue.” This was easily found on the Twitter GITMO Watch site where there appears to be a good bit of information and regular posts.
“The first pretrial session of 2018 started as scheduled on Jan. 8 but – as is typical with the Sept. 11 military commission – that was far from a sure bet several weeks earlier. As the early December session wrapped up, a spill of classified information cast doubt on whether lawyers from three of the five defense teams were facing an investigation, or at least a review of their security clearances, that might complicate their participation.
Unintentional spills of classified information are a regular part of life at the Guantanamo Bay military commissions system. There have been dozens of spills since the five 9/11 defendants were arraigned back in May 2012, some made by the defense teams and others by the prosecution.
Records from the Office of Military Commissions “indicate an average of approximately $100,000 per year is spent to remediate spills and unauthorized releases of classified information,” according to a Pentagon spokesperson. All told, the commissions cost about $100 million annually.”
While every article I read on the topic from a Miami news site to CNN notes “no reason given” that does not mean that Secretary Mattis did not have reason and purpose for his change of mind. There was plenty of time between March 2017 and now to have reviewed and come to decisions on GITMO.
In point of fact, those MSM reporters did not bother to look any deeper. I did and in a matter of moments found information that could easily explain Secretary Mattis’ actions.
Speculation also notes that there may be more change coming since in President Trump’s State of the Union address, he made reference to again bringing GITMO up to speed to house terrorists.
There has also been a lot of other speculation as to possible movement into the prison of some who may fall under his December executive order concerning “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption.”
Looks like a house cleaning situation is underway at GITMO no matter the reason. Getting GITMO back on track and ready makes sense.
Isn’t it time by the way that the 9/11 commission thing should have been done and the lawyers no longer needed? One would think that humane actions and US laws if nothing else would dictate a speedier timeframe for those being held. Another consideration is cost of the commission, seriously if leaks from the commission could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, then what are taxpayers forking out for this commission yearly?