Three members of the military commission set up to try terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been removed after defense challenges to their qualifications, pursuant to a decision handed down Thursday by the Appointing Authority for Military Commissions, John T. Altenburg, Jr.. During initial commission proceedings in late August, military counsel for Australian detainee David Hicks and Yemeni Salim Ahmed Hamdan challenged the fitness, legal qualifications and/or impartiality of three of the four commission members, the alternate member, and presiding judge Col. Peter E. Brownback. Altenburg's decision reduces the number of sitting commissioners on the Hick and Hamdan cases to the minimum 3; other commissioners will be appointed to fill the vacancies on the five-member panel when it hears other cases. In an interview Friday with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Hicks civilian counsel Josh Dratel said that in the wake of the decision his client's situation was in fact worse, not better:
Well, it should have improved the position of David Hicks because these people should have been replaced. But in fact what it does now, is it worsens his situation because by not replacing them, they create a situation where the presiding officer's influence becomes much greater.Listen to the the full ABC interview with Dratel here. The full text of Altenburg's ruling is online from the Pentagon here [PDF]. Read the official Defense Department press release here. AP has more.
Our objection was that he's a lawyer they're not. He's going to dominate the legal issues and the legal questions and the legal decisions. Now, his domination is much more acute because he's only dealing with two persons who can challenge him, rather than four.
You know what I mean? When you have four non-lawyers on the panel, maybe they can get together and develop an independent point of view than what the presiding officer has on questions of law.