Legal Ethics

Chief defense lawyer for Gitmo military commissions is sentenced for contempt

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Guantanamo Bay

Aerial view of the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A Guantanamo judge has imposed a contempt sentence of 21 days’ confinement on the Marine general who is chief defense counsel for the military commissions there.

The judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, found Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker in contempt for disobeying his orders in the case of a man accused of orchestrating the attack on the USS Cole, the Miami Herald reports. Baker is the second-highest ranking lawyer in the Marine Corps.

Spath sentenced Baker to 21 days’ confinement and required him to pay a $1,000 fine. A senior Pentagon official will review the contempt finding and sentence. Until then, Baker will be confined to his room in a trailer.

Spath said that Baker had disobeyed his orders to reinstate three civilian lawyers who claimed an ethical issue prevented them from representing the USS Cole suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Baker had dismissed the lawyers at their request.

The reason for the lawyers’ resignation is highly classified, but it involves compromised attorney-client privilege at the Guantanamo detention facility, according to a previous report on the “defense revolt.”

Spath said Baker’s decision to release the lawyers was null and void. The judge said the dismissed lawyers must appear before him next week, either in person or by video feed.

The only defense lawyer left in the case is Navy Lt. Alaric Piette, who argues the case can’t proceed absent a lawyer with death penalty experience. Spath ordered Piette to participate in a pretrial hearing on Friday.

Meanwhile an appellate lawyer for al-Nashiri in a “mostly dormant” habeas case filed a petition with a federal judge in Washington, D.C., seeking to halt the Guantanamo proceedings, according to the Miami Herald. U.S, District Judge Royce Lamberth has scheduled a hearing on the injunction request for Thursday morning, according to a tweet by Politico reporter Josh Gerstein, who covered the court filing here.

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