Guantanamo prosecutor makes case for military trials
Guantanamo Bay's chief prosecutor fights tooth and nail to defend its much maligned military tribunals, saying they are the "only lawful path" for those suspected of plotting the September 11 attacks.
"I'm committed to make that trial the fairest possible trial and to achieve accountability under law," Brigadier General Mark Martins said about plans to try the five suspects who so far have only gone through preliminary hearings.
Speaking during an exclusive interview on the US naval base in Cuba, the tall and slender general said the law stipulates that prosecutors turn to special military tribunals to handle the cases of the prison's detainees.
"This forum that you're witnessing here is the only lawful path forward for a criminal trial of the five accused in this case and any individual in Guantanamo under US law," Martins said on the sidelines of proceedings late last month.
"There's a bar in our law: Congress has prohibited the transfer of any detainee from Guantanamo to the US for trial, so that's not going to happen in federal courts. So if it's going to happen, it's going to happen by military commissions."
The US Congress has barred President Barack Obama's administration from transferring any Guantanamo detainee to US soil, even for trial.
Since 2011, Martins has led a team of prosecutors -- both military and civilian -- who are arguing a handful of cases, including the 9/11 attacks and the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 US sailors and wounded 39 others in 2000.
The September 11 trial, dubbed the "trial of the century," could take place as early as January 2015, though there have been many delays.
Martins, who is in his fifties, was previously deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He graduated first in his class from the prestigious US Military Academy at West Point.
He helped reform the military commissions after Obama ordered the overhaul when he arrived at the White House in 2009.
Ever since, Martins has tirelessly fought detractors of the system, including his very own predecessor, Colonel Morris Davis, who says it is unfair.
Martins's leitmotif is that the tribunals are anything but "unfair, unsettled, unknown, unbounded, unnecessary and un-American."
Martins, who plans to soon send more suspects to face proceedings before the tribunals, insisted that each prisoner's case was reviewed on a regular basis to "reconsider the threats posed by an individual."
"They have a legal avenue to challenge their detention. There's no immediate easy solution but process is important," he added.
But Martins also acknowledged the fundamental challenges striking at the core of the legal process underway at the prison set up by Obama's predecessor George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on US soil.
"What do you do if you can't try them, transfer them or release them?" Martins asked about the suspects.
"It's a difficult problem, one of the hardest problems in modern national security policy and law."
Also looming over the legal proceedings is the Obama administration's plan to shutter the jail, a campaign promise long delayed over wrangling with lawmakers opposed to bringing the terror suspects on US soil, allies uneasy about taking in the men and concerns they could be mistreated or mishandled in their home countries.
"The policy of my government is that Guantanamo will close, that remains our obligation," Martins said.
"We're going to do it responsively, we're going to do it under law, we're going to do it in the way that is in the interest of security, for peace-loving people everywhere in the world, but also in the interest of justice."
Martins also imposes a tough regimen on himself as he sets about meeting this "big challenge." Each morning, he runs five to six miles (eight to 10 kilometers) before dawn.