WASHINGTON – The Pentagon acknowledged on Monday that two former members of the military team handling prosecutions of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, had alleged last year that the trial system was rigged in favor of the government.
Officials said, however, that the prosecutors' charges had been thoroughly reviewed and dismissed as unfounded. While declining to reveal specifics of the allegations, a Pentagon spokesman said an investigation determined they were "much ado about nothing."
The allegations by Air Force Maj. John Carr (search), who was then a captain, and Air Force Maj. Robert Preston (search) were first reported by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in their Monday editions. The newspapers said they obtained internal e-mails written by Carr and Preston that detailed their allegations.
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita acknowledged the allegations but said he could not discuss them in detail.
"They made a number of allegations about the operation of their office, about administrative things, about some of their concerns about certain aspects of the commissions," DiRita said. The Pentagon refers to the military trials, which were begun last fall but are now in suspension, as commissions, or military tribunals.
"Those allegations were thoroughly investigated" by the Defense Department office of the Inspector General, DiRita added. "The allegations were serious and the issue is a serious one. The inspector general concluded that it was much ado about nothing, that the individuals that had made the allegations couldn't substantiate their allegations, and everybody moved on. That matter was thoroughly vetted, and it's closed."
The Journal account of the allegations said both Carr and Preston requested that they be reassigned rather than participate in the trials. It said they accused fellow prosecutors of ignoring torture allegations, failing to protect evidence that could help defendants establish a defense, and withholding information from superiors.
The Times said Carr asserted that the chief prosecutor had told subordinates that the members of the military commission that would try the first four defendants would be "handpicked" to ensure that all would be convicted.
Carr also said in his message that he had been told that any information that could help the defendants would probably exist only in the 10 percent of documents being withheld by the CIA for security reasons, the Times said.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a vocal critic of the military trial system, said the Carr and Preston allegations are further evidence that the Pentagon should scrap the system and instead try the alleged terrorists under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which provides fuller protection for the rights of the accused.
"Clearly the concerns raised by these two confirm what we've been saying from the beginning: (the Pentagon) rigged the system to render the result the Bush administration wants, which is conviction of these first accused, at any cost," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU.
The Pentagon-appointed lawyer for David Hicks, an Australian who is one of four Guantanamo Bay detainees whose cases were the first to go to trial, was quoted by Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday as saying the Australian government should withdraw its support for the trials, based on the Carr and Preston allegations.
"When you look at the system and how it is operating and you look at the information that has just come out, I would hope that they would say enough's enough," the lawyer, Maj. Michael Mori, was quoted as saying.
The Australian government said it was looking into the matter.
Attorney General Philip Ruddock said he had not heard of the two prosecutors' allegations until Monday.
"I will look into those issues," Ruddock told reporters in Canberra. "The Americans have dealt with some of those matters and said they lacked veracity. I'll have (a) look at it and see whether I want to say the same thing -- at this stage, I can't," he added.
DiRita told reporters at the Pentagon that although the inspector general found the Carr and Preston allegations to be without merit, the Pentagon is looking at possible changes to the trial system.
"We're looking -- we're always looking -- to see if there are modifications that might be needed to the procedures" before the trials resume, DiRita said. They were halted last November when a federal court ruled that the procedures violated due process and U.S. government obligations under the Geneva Conventions.
In July, a three-judge federal appeals court panel reversed the lower court ruling, saying the proceedings were lawful. The Pentagon has not said how soon it intends to resume the trials.