I am scheduled to leave for Guantanamo Bay on February 7 to observe the Guantanamo Bay military commission pre-trial proceedings in the case against the five 9/11 defendants. The flight is a little longer than necessary because the plane is prohibited from crossing Cuban air space. In addition to the NGO Observers, the plane to Guantanamo Bay will carry many of the other players, including the defense teams, prosecutors, media, and victim family members.
As an NGO Observer, it is my role to attend, observe, analyze, critique, and report back on the Guantanamo Bay proceedings to help ensure that the proceedings are fair and transparent for all of the stakeholders. The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual sets out the rights and interests of the many stakeholders: the defendants, prosecution, victims and their families, press, witnesses, Joint-Task Force-GTMO, U.S. citizens, international community, and NGO observers.
Since my December 2014 Guantanamo Bay mission I have given a good deal of thought to the rights of one stakeholder group in particular: the prosecution. I met Brigadier General Martins, the chief prosecutor, and some members of his team in December during the NGO observer briefing. During the briefing he was asked the “How did you get here question?” In his response he described his past military service, conversations with family, and his legal education and training.
At the conclusion of our meeting, I thanked him for taking on the role of chief prosecutor. Many might wonder why. The short answer is that the prosecutor represents the rights and interests of society as a whole. The guarantee of a fair and transparent trial is as dependent on the prosecution upholding its duty to all of the stakeholders as it is on the defense teams zealously working on behalf of their clients and the judges engaging in thoughtful and insightful legal analysis when rendering rulings.
Standard 1.1 of the National Prosecution Standards of the National District Attorney’s Association states that “the primary responsibility of a prosecutor is to seek justice, which can only be achieved by the representation and presentation of the truth.” Standard 3-1.2(c) of the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice further notes that it is the duty of the prosecutor to “seek justice, not merely to convict.” 10 USC §949(b) (2014) prohibits the coercion or influence of military commission prosecutors. As a stakeholder entitled to a fair trial the prosecution in fulfilling its duty to seek justice has the right to operate with sufficient resources, without judicial prejudice, and free from outside influence.
The duty to seek justice through the representation and presentation of the truth is not necessarily inconsistent with a military commission proceeding. General Martins has indicated that the prosecution is bringing only those charges it believes it can prove; and that no classified information will be used as evidence as it is important for all the stakeholders to be able to evaluate the merits of the evidence. In short, he has advocated for justice with an open and transparent proceeding. However, General Martins and his team are in the challenging position of bearing the burden of illegal and unethical actions by governmental units over which he has no authority (e.g., the FBI and CIA). It may not be possible to counter the taint of these actions on the military commission proceedings. It remains to be seen how he and his team will balance the consequences of these actions while upholding the duty to seek justice.
He is an equally delicate balance with respect to the families of the victims. General Martins often speaks of justice for the victims. The voice of the victims and their families is a strong and compelling voice and the jury (panel) when finally selected and sitting will undoubtedly empathize with it. As the proceedings progress, those interested in a fair and open process will need to be attentive to ensure that the prosecution serves justice by remaining neutral to and independent of each individual stakeholder group.
(Catherine Lemmer, 9/11 Hearings, Guantanamo Bay, February 2015)