Some time ago, several civilian defense attorneys quite a pending Guantanamo Military Commission trial after discovering listening devices in what were supposed to be rooms where they could privately communicate with their clients. The military refused to investigate or explain the presence of the devices and the attorneys rightfully quit, as their ability to properly represent their clients was compromised and to continue representation would have been unethical under the current conditions.
Brigadier General John G. Baker, in charge of defense of the Guantanamo defendants, permitted the attorneys to quit and leave Guantanamo. Colonel Vance Smath, in charge of the Guantanamo Military Commission demanded that General Baker recall the attorneys and continue with the case, but General Baker refused. Colonel Smath found General Baker in criminal contempt of court and sentenced him to 21 days confinement, plus a substantial fine. On review by the convening authority, the confinement and fine were set aside, but the criminal conviction itself was left standing.
General Baker sought habeas relief in the Article III Courts. Senior United States District Judge Royce Lamberth granted General Baker’s petition and has overturned his criminal contempt conviction. Judge Lamberth ruled that Colonel Smath overstepped his authority. Only the whole Military Commission, acting as a body, may issue a contempt conviction and sentence. Colonel Vance may not act alone in doing so.
It is unlikely that the Military Commission as a whole will pursue any further action against General Baker. The Guantanamo cases have come to a halt over the issue of these hidden wiretaps and until this issue is resolved, likely no further progress in the cases will be made.
I believe Judge Lamberth was correct in granting the requested habeas relief. Clearly Colonel Spath overstepped his authority.