The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
August 22nd, 2009 - A Gitmo Prosecutor’s Act of Conscience
Darrel Vandeveld Helped Secure Release of Prisoner Who Confessed Under Torture; Now He’s a Pariah
From CBS News
August 22, 2009
One of the youngest detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison is expected to be returned this weekend to Afghanistan where he was arrested seven years ago for allegedly throwing a grenade at American soldiers.
Mohammed Jawad's break came when a U.S. military lawyer made a choice - to follow his conscience, as CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports.
Reserve Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld could not keep silent. As he put it, "Silence in the face of evil is collaboration with evil."
Vandeveld was a military prosecutor at Guantanamo - until he decided to speak against the corruption of justice he found there.
"Our fighting men and women who've been putting themselves in harms - They're not fighting for rigged, kangaroo trials," Vandeveld said.
That is exactly the kind of trial Col. Vandeveld says they were getting at Guantanamo. And he should know. He was the lead prosecutor in seven cases.
When Vandeveld arrived there in May 2007, fresh from the battlefield in Iraq, he said, "I wanted to punish them. I wanted vengeance."
"I would characterize him as a true believer at that point," said Maj. David Frakt, a military commission defense counsel.
Frakt was the defense attorney in the case that would ultimately compel Vandeveld to risk everything.
Mohammed Jawad was accused of throwing a hand grenade at two U.S. special forces soldiers in 2002, injuring them severely. At the time, this Afghan boy was 16 or 17 years old. Vandeveld aggressively prosecuted his case.
"I had no doubt in my mind, based on what I had received, that he would be convicted," Vandeveld said. But a chance discovery would reveal that important evidence in the case had been withheld.
"I saw something that floored me," he said.
In the evidence file of an unrelated trial, Vandeveld discovered that Jawad had made a statement to military investigators - a statement that was backed up by the U.S. guard force at his prison.
"He had been hooded and slapped, that he had been shackled, hooded, and thrown down stairs," Vandeveld said. "I knew nothing about the existence of the statement. … The evidence was in a state of chaos."
By law, Vandeveld had to share his discovery with the defense. He now believed Jawad had been tortured even though he had no intelligence to offer. And he did not believe Jawad could be convicted.
"I think he was just as appalled by what he found in those records as I was," Frakt said.
Frakt says that discovery changed Vandeveld forever. He could not ignore the violations of law he discovered - critical evidence that was missing, lost, or withheld.
"The rules are applicable to everyone," Vandeveld said. "There is no exception. There are no different forms of justice."
That led Vandeveld to make the most agonizing decision of his life. In September 2008, he resigned from the military commissions.
But, Vandeveld, said, "My conscience is not clear. I prosecuted Mohmmed Jawad for too long. I participated in the commissions for too long."
The Pentagon, in a statement to CBS News said, "Vandeveld's statements are proven to be unsubstantiated."
But Frakt asserts that "The Pentagon propaganda machine is hard at work to try to discredit Darrel Vandeveld."
He received a poor evaluation report, which effectively ends his military career.
"You do the right thing, you will be forever grateful that you did it no matter what happens to you," Vandeveld said.
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