Summary: Major Jason Wright, defense attorney for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of being one of the main players in the September 11 terror attacks, has resigned, claiming the U.S. government left him with no other choice.
Major Jason Wright joined the United States military in 2005. He spent 15 months in Iraq during the surge, and has also worked as a Judge Advocate. For the past three years, he served as a defense attorney for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the alleged leaders behind the devastating September 11 attacks. Mohammed was captured roughly 11 years ago, with formal charges brought against him in 2012, but still awaits trial. Mohammed faces the death penalty if found guilty by the military commission.
Last week, Wright resigned. According to NPR.org, Wright has accused the United States of “abhorrent leadership,” specifically on human rights and due process guarantees. Wright also claims that the government is creating a “show trial.”
Wright had previously been asked by the Army to leave the defense team to enroll in a course so that he could be promoted from Captain to Major. Wright refused the order, explaining that his compliance would have been unethical. He would have essentially had to abandon his client to take the course.
Although the course can be deferred, (Wright had already deferred the course once), his second request for a deferral was denied. No reason for the denial was given to Wright. Rather than leave his client behind to attend the course, he refused orders, which meant he had no choice but to resign.
Wright complained that an amalgam of issues hindered his representation of Mohammad. Mohammed is one of six “high-value detainees” possibly facing the death penalty at the military prison. Wright stated that the U.S. government has tortured these men, especially Mohammed. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times and forcibly sleep deprived for over seven days. Threats were also made that the prisoner’s family would be killed. “And those are just the declassified facts that I’m able to actually speak about,” Wright added. Disgusted, he explained that Congress has passed a statute “to ensure that no information about the U.S. torture program will ever come out.”
Because of the treatment of Mohammed by U.S. government officials, Wright knew that it would be nearly impossible for his client to trust him. “You show up several years later and you say, ‘I’m from the U.S. government and I’m here to help you’…and you add on the complexity that I wear the same uniform as the guards…it’s very challenging in any situation to develop trust and confidence with a client. But when you add on that torture paradigm, it’s all the more difficult.”
Defense attorneys face other challenges, Wright continued. Some have stated that listening devices, which were concealed by “smoke detectors,” were installed in attorney-client meeting rooms. “…You actually have, in practice, a very large effort to ensure that no information about torture is ever made known in public,” Wright stated. The hardest thing about being a defense attorney, according to Wright, is fighting the U.S. government’s influence. “The U.S. government is trying to call this a fair trial, while stacking the deck so much against the defense and the accused that it can hardly be called a fair trial in any system in the world,” Wright said.
Wright’s concern is that the behavior of officials at Guantanamo Bay sets a precedent for other countries to “set up secret military courts outside of public review and outside of due process…Leave aside our constitutional principles—which we should try to uphold irrespective of who the defendant may be—the Constitution has been completely stepped on throughout this entire process…That’s a separate and distinct issue of how the U.S. now has shown just abhorrent leadership when it comes to actually following essential, fundamental human rights and due-process guarantees.”
Wright emphasized that the government probably would not release the defendants, even if they are acquitted at trial. “We have a system where if someone’s acquitted, they will not be set free…that is actually the very definition of a show trial.” In response, the U.S. government argued that many convicted detainees returned to their home countries after serving their time.
Wright was also angry about feeling forced to abandon his client. “Here you have government attorneys who tell a defendant, ‘I’m your attorney, I’m here to help you, and I’m going to be here ‘til the end.’ And halfway through this process, the U.S. government—the same government that tortures you, the same government that’s trying to kill you, the same government that provides the public defender—now gets to control when defense attorneys come and go.”
When asked to respond to Wright’s allegations, a spokesman from the Army explained that the course deferral was denied a second time because “a suitable and competent military defense attorney was available, Major Wright was not the lead or sole counsel, and it ensured Major Wright remained professionally competent and competitive for promotion.” A separate spokesman for the military commissions denied that listening devices have ever been used. “The prosecution has never listened to a single attorney-client communication, and no entity of the U.S. government is listening to, monitoring, or recording attorney-client communications at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.”
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Photo credit: npr.org