The Marine Corps general who oversees war court defense teams at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay was found guilty of contempt for disobeying orders by a military judge this week and sentenced to 21 days confinement.
Air Force Col. Vance Spath issued the penalty to Brig. Gen. John Baker, the chief defense counsel at the military court, after Baker released three civilian defense attorneys in a case prosecuting those accused of attacking the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
Baker was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for his actions.
“As in any US, state, federal, or military court, the judge has the obligation and power to enforce decorum in the courtroom,” Pentagon spokesman Ben Sakrisson told CNN.
This is the first punitive judgment handed down to an American official since legal proceedings began in the military court at Guantanamo Bay early last decade. The incident was first reported by The Miami Herald.
Baker had apparently excused the attorneys over an issue regarding attorney-client privilege, according to the Miami Herald, and had refused to testify about his decision to release the lawyers in front of Spath the day before, or to return the three lawyers to the case.
In attempting to argue his position, Baker said the court had no jurisdiction over him as a US citizen and its authority only applied to the non-Americans being tried at Guantanamo Bay.
According to the Defense Department, the rules governing the military commissions state that the military judge is “responsible for ensuring that military commission proceedings are conducted in a fair and orderly manner, without unnecessary delay or waste of time or resources.”
Baker was confined to his living quarters on the base and was permitted to have internet and phone communications, according to the Herald.
“The military judge today ordered General Baker to be confined to his quarters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” Sakrisson said. “The convening authority will determine whether to affirm, defer, suspend or disapprove the sentence in the next few days.”
The military charge against a brigadier general comes on the same day that President Donald Trump called the US justice system a joke and a “laughingstock” and said he would consider sending the alleged assailant in the New York truck attack to Guantanamo Bay, nicknamed Gitmo.
None of the defendants currently at Gitmo, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, have had their trials actually get under way.
Civil liberties groups that oppose the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay said the ruling was an example of the judicial process run amok.
“General Baker was continuing the honorable military defense counsel tradition of trying to act ethically, despite being part of a system rigged against the rule of law,” Hina Shamsi of the ACLU said in a written statement. “The military judge’s unprecedented contempt ruling against General Baker shows just how difficult that is. The military judge’s decision needs to be reversed and General Baker released immediately.”