The Pentagon official who oversees war crimes trials at Guantanamo Bay on Friday afternoon ordered a Marine Corps general released from confinement at the base in Cuba, awaiting a ruling on the general’s conviction for contempt of a military court.
Harvey Rishikof, who has the title of “Convening Authority” for the Guantanamo military commissions, acted on his own to free Brigadier General John D. Baker from his quarters, after serving just under two days of a 21-day confinement. He was required to stay in his small apartment at the Navy base.
The action came about an hour before a civilian federal judge was to begin a hearing where he planned to rule on the general’s legal petition for release. Senior U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said he welcomed Rishikof’s decision, and would hold off any ruling in the general’s case to see what further developments there may be within the military.
Rishikof indicated that he had acted on his own. He had not been asked by the general for release. The release order specified that it was deferring the confinement, not setting it aside.
General Baker was ruled in contempt by Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, the military judge presiding at the death-penalty trial of a Saudi national accused of a plot to blow up a Navy ship in a Yemeni harbor 17 years ago. The colonel imposed the 21-day confinement.
The Pentagon’s Rishikof has indicated that he will review the legality of both the contempt ruling and the sentence imposed by the colonel. That would occur even without the general seeking such a review.
Any decision that Rishikof makes on either issue would be subject to appeal by the general, to a military appeals court and then to the civilian courts – specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
General Baker got into trouble with the military trial judge for taking off of the Saudi national’s legal defense team three civilian lawyers, because of those lawyers’ ethical complaint that military officials had spied on their consultations with their client. The general refused Colonel Spath’s demand that he nullify the lawyer-excuse order.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the three civilian lawyers told news organizations that they would resist an order by Colonel Spath that they participate electronically in a resumption of the trial of the Saudi, Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Al-Nashiri.