World and Nation

Ex-Prosecutor Tells of Political Urging by Pentagon on Detainees

The former chief prosecutor here took the witness stand on Monday on behalf of a detainee and testified that top Pentagon officials had pressured him in deciding which cases to prosecute and what evidence to use.

The prosecutor, Col. Morris D. Davis of the Air Force, testified that Pentagon officials had interfered with his work for political reasons and told him that charges against well-known detainees “could have real strategic political value” and that there could be no acquittals.

His testimony completed one of the more unusual transformations in the contentious history of Guantanamo. Davis, who is on active duty as a senior Air Force official and was one of the Pentagon’s most vocal advocates of the Guantanamo military commissions, has become one of the most visible critics of the system.

Testifying about his assertions for the first time, Davis said a senior Pentagon official who oversaw the military commissions, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann of the Air Force Reserve, reversed a decision he had made and insisted that prosecutors proceed with evidence derived through waterboarding of detainees and other aggressive interrogation methods that critics call torture.

Called to the stand by a Navy defense lawyer and testifying before a military judge, Davis, in uniform, said Hartmann directed him last year to push war crimes cases here quickly. He said the general was trying to give the system legitimacy before a new president took office. He testified that Hartmann referred to the long difficulties the Pentagon had had in operating the military commissions and said, “If we don’t get some cases going before the election, this thing’s going to implode.”

Spokesmen for the Pentagon and Hartmann declined to comment on Monday, saying the questions continued before the military judge. In the past, they have said that they disagreed with some of his assertions.

The extraordinary testimony featured Davis, perspiring slightly in an air-conditioned courtroom, being cross-examined by his successor, Col. Lawrence J. Morris of the Army. The two uniformed officers faced each other with natural military politeness, giving way occasionally to a brisk question or stiff response.

The awkward moment of one military officer’s taking on another occurred because lawyers for a detainee facing war crimes charges called Davis to the stand after he had given news interviews criticizing Hartmann and the running of the military commissions.

The defense lawyers for the detainee, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, once a driver for Osama bin Laden, said Davis’ contentions amounted to unlawful influence over the prosecution.

In his cross-examination, Morris did not attack his predecessor wholesale. But he had Davis acknowledge that he had filed the charges against Hamdan himself and had never had concerns about any of the charges or the way the evidence was obtained.

In his time as chief prosecutor, the current chief prosecutor asked, had not Davis endorsed every specification of every charge against the man prosecutors say helped bin Laden elude capture after the Sept. 11 attacks?

“I never had any doubts,” the former prosecutor said, “about Mr. Hamdan’s guilt.” Although Davis completed his testimony, the hearing is to continue on Tuesday.