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Former Insider Shatters Credibility of Military Commissions, Describes Brutal Treatment of Teenage Detainee

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld: "I am here today to offer a single, straightforward message: the military commission system is broken beyond repair."

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Sadly, Lt. Col. Vandeveld’s unparalleled dissection and repudiation of key deficiencies at the heart of the Commission system -- which, as he correctly observed, are without doubt immune to the kind of cosmetic changes endorsed by the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the Senate Committee -- already appears to be a mere footnote of dissent in the revival of the Commissions. 

As Lt. Col. Vandeveld explained to me in an email on Thursday, although he cannot fundamentally understand why Obama is determined to go forward with the Commissions, a plausible theory was put forward during the Committee meeting; namely that “the President has too many issues he's concerned with, and has to rely on his advisers to advise him correctly. Of course, these advisers all come from the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, most of them holdovers from the prior administration, so I suppose their recommendations were and are predictable.” 

I received a more withering analysis from someone else who intimately understands the irremediable deficiencies of the Commissions, a former senior official who was involved in the novel trial system for many years, who explained to me that, although he was certain when Barack Obama was elected that we were seeing the final days of both Guantánamo and the Commissions, it was “disappointing, to put it mildly, that despite being promised ‘change we can believe in’ we're getting more of the same old Bush-Cheney policies when it comes to national security.”  

Expanding on Lt. Col. Vandeveld’s concerns about “holdovers” from the Bush administration, the former senior official explained that it was no surprise that Bush-era policies were still being pursued, because Robert Gates is still running the Defense Department, Susan Crawford , a close friend of Dick Cheney and his Chief of Staff, David Addington , is still in place as the Commissions’ Convening Authority, responsible for deciding who should be put forward for trial, Brig. Gen. Thom Hartmann , her discredited legal advisor, continues to orchestrate the Commissions, George Toscas is still serving as the senior Justice Department attorney on matters of national security, and Capt. John Murphy , the new chief prosecutor, has “taken off his Justice Department suit and put on a Navy uniform giving DoJ control over the prosecution.” 

In a sentence that sums up the increasing sense of disillusion felt by those who expected Barack Obama to work closely with those who resisted the grossest iniquities of the Bush administration, the senior official also noted that it was disappointing that Justice Department and Defense Department officials who stood up to Bush and Cheney and were ostracized for their integrity continued to be ostracized by Obama.  

In conclusion, I can only agree wholeheartedly, and add my own disappointment that those of us who spent long years pointing out the horrors of the Bush administration’s policies, and waiting for the demise of that particular cabal in the expectation that America would once more respect its role as a nation founded on the rule of law, are still obliged to struggle to have our voices heard, even though what is at stake -- repairing the damage wrought by the Bush administration, and ensuring that the handful of genuine terror suspects at Guantánamo are tried in a forum that will meet international recognized standards -- is of critical importance.

Andy Worthington is a writer and historian, and author of The Guantánamo Files .