The detention facility maintained by the American military at Guantanamo Bay has been the center of controversy since its inception. Now a new controversy is brewing after the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals have made another conviction. This time, though, it wasn’t an enemy combatant but a Marine general.
Brigadier General John Baker stood up for the rights of the accused. He argued that the defendants’ lawyers should be able to meet with their clients without American government oversight. The tribunal found him in contempt of court and he has been sentenced to 21 days in confinement. General Baker will also be fined $1,000.
The Chief of Defense Counsel. Maj. Ben Sakrisson, speaking for the Pentagon, said Baker is being confined in his quarters at Guantanamo Bay.
“The military commissions are willing to put people in jail for defending the rule of law,” Jay Connell, who represents another Guantanamo detainee facing a military commission, told The Daily Beast. “If they’re willing to put a Marine general in jail for standing up for a client’s rights, they’re willing to do just anything.”
Baker did not enter a plea in the hearing, and Air Force Colonel Vance Spath conducted the hearing without him.
“Earlier this month,” The Daily Beast writes, “three civilian attorneys for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the accused bomber of the USS Cole in 2000, abruptly quit the death-penalty case. The attorneys said that they had significant reason to believe the government was listening in to their communications. Spath, the judge in the Nashiri case, barred them from discussing the issue with Nashiri, since it was classified. Nashiri had lost his lawyers without ever knowing exactly why.”
“Baker supported the Nashiri attorneys’ decision to quit – and believed he, as chief defense counsel, had all sufficient authority to permit them to walk. Baker released them on October 11.”
Spath, the judge, ordered the lawyers back. General Baker didn’t believe Spath had that authority and didn’t compel the lawyers back. Spath then ruled him to be in contempt.
“It will come up again the next time someone tries to resign or otherwise leave the case,” Connell said. He did not know if other Guantanamo defense lawyers would resign in protest.
Back in June, Baker told defense attorneys “not to conduct any attorney-client meetings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO), until they know with certainty that improper monitoring of such meetings is not occurring,” according to a letter published by the Miami Herald.
“At present,” Baker wrote, “I am not confident that the prohibition on improper monitoring of attorney-client meetings at GTMO as ordered by the commission is being followed.”
This latest episode in the long-running War on Terror comes just a day after President Trump stated his intentions to categorize the terrorist who killed eight people in Manhattan on Tuesday as an enemy combatant. Trump publicly called for Sayfullo Saipov to be detained and tried at Guantanamo.
Saipov, though, is in the United States legally. The 2009 Military Commission Act stipulates that the tribunal at Guantanamo Bay is for foreigner fighters and conspirators only. Americans cannot stand trial there.