ABA Journal

Meet the man who would save Guantanamo


Photo of Brig. Gen. Mark Martins by Dave Moser.

For a moment, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins seems discomfited. That is not his nature. In the words of a reporter covering the revamped military commissions now trying accused terrorists in Guantanamo Bay: “Don’t play poker with the man. He has no tells.”

But Martins is visibly stung when told reporters gripe that his lengthy, detailed responses to their questions sometimes don’t contain the direct answers they seek. He winces, holding a squint as he mulls the criticism, his sinewy 6-foot-3 frame folded erectly onto a small couch by a coffee table at one end of his office in a nondescript commercial area of Northern Virginia. His response at first develops in the fashion that brings the complaint: “You have to give them the context. We’re not in the same place we were five years ago. So using the same narratives and storylines when you now have a different statute—Congress has weighed in, we’ve had the judiciary weigh in.”

Martins catches himself in midsentence, then continues in a softer voice that trails off in thought: “So. I probably do. I hope they don’t think I’m pedantic. …”

Transparency has been Martins’ mantra, a theme he returns to often since being assigned in September 2011 as chief prosecutor, the sixth in 10 years, for the controversial military commissions in Gitmo.

In their earlier iterations, one chief and several prosecutors have resigned or sought reassignment, some blaming unethical pressures from both military and civilian higher-ups. Martins knows that perception still rules, and part of his job is to proselytize what he sees as a newfound legitimacy for the rehabilitated military commissions, significantly overhauled to carry the burden of justice for those accused in the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and the 2000 bombing in Yemen of the U.S.S. Cole.

But legitimacy is as elusive as it is necessary because of the recent history of military commissions. Dusted off after 60 years of desuetude only a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, too much of their modern development took place in the dark underbelly of fiat, political intrigue and utter disregard for justice and the rule of law. Even teachers in the law department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Martins’ alma mater, say the system had been reverse-engineered to get hasty convictions and the certainty of executions.

Click here to read the rest of “Meet the man who would save Guantanamo” from the March issue of the ABA Journal.

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