As the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) was informed of a top prosecutor’s intent to resign–and his decision to go on record with his ethical concerns–it launched a forceful offensive against him. As part of this campaign, leading officials at the OMC circulated belittling talking points to other staffers and deployed a Soviet-style strategy of punitive and discrediting psychiatric evaluations.
The target of this latest push was Lieut. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor, who resigned September 9 and then submitted a damning four-page affidavit to the war court. Vandeveld had been the lead prosecutor in the case of Mohammed Jawad, a young Afghan accused of attempted murder. According to his statement, Vandeveld decided to resign due to deep-seated ethical concerns about the treatment of Jawad in custody and the withholding of “potentially exculpatory evidence” from the defense. Vandeveld characterized the procedure for providing evidence to the defense as “slipshod [and] uncertain” and concluded, “I am highly concerned to the point that I believe I can no longer serve as prosecutor at the Commissions.”
Vandeveld’s resignation came after a string of embarrassing repudiations of the Guantanámo trials, including three Supreme Court setbacks, the defection of at least four other prosecutors from the OMC and the disqualification of Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann from three separate trials because of political bias and interference. In an apparent attempt to minimize the impact of this latest rebuke of the OMC, Hartmann prepared talking points against Vandeveld. Obtained by The Nation, these talking points assert that Vandeveld is dishonest, “ill-informed” and has violated commission regulations.
After Vandeveld resigned, he made himself available to testify on behalf of the Jawad defense at a pretrial hearing, writing, “I do believe I have relevant testimony to offer.” But the OMC barred him from doing so. The office then circulated the sharply worded talking points intended to discredit Vandeveld.
“They were well prepared to try to discredit [Vandeveld] if this issue flared up,” said a former Pentagon official close to the OMC.
Hartmann, the embattled former legal adviser for the Office of Military Commissions, was removed from his post in September. He was then shifted to a supervisory position overseeing the commissions within the Pentagon, and he is now reportedly being investigated by his chain of command for ethics abuses. But he is still exerting unparalleled influence.
“He is very intimately involved in the effort to prevent Colonel Vandeveld from being able to testify,” defense lawyer Maj. David Frakt said to the judge during the pretrial hearing.
While Hartmann made a concerted effort to keep Vandeveld’s voice off the record, he also apparently attempted to devalue that voice if it ever became public. According to the defense team, Hartmann ordered Vandeveld to undergo a mental health evaluation after he submitted his resignation, despite having displayed no previous symptoms of psychological distress.
This tactic, as a means of suppressing dissent, was popularized by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. In the aftermath of Stalin’s violent and bloody purges, Khrushchev believed he could punish opponents in a more discreet way, announcing, “there are not political prisoners, only persons of unsound mind.” Involuntary hospitalizations and punitive psychiatric evaluations became part of the regime’s strategy and targeted dissenters like Pyotr Grigorenko, a former Soviet general and critic of Khrushchev, and Leonid Plyushch, a mathematician turned human rights advocate. Grigorenko was forcibly hospitalized in the ’60s; Plyushch in the early ’70s.