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Guantánamo war court officials terminated

[JURIST] Secretary of Defense James Mattis [official website] on Monday fired two Guantánamo Bay officials responsible for overseeing the trials of accused war criminals including the planners of the 9/11 attack.

The officials are Harvey Rishikof, designated [text] by Mattis as the convening authority for military commissions in April 2017, and Gary Brown, the commission's legal advisor.

An attorney who previously served as legal counsel to the deputy director of the FBI, Richikof specialized in national security, civil and military courts, terrorism, and international law. He also held multiple positions in government focusing on cybersecurity investigations.

President Donald Trump has been critical [Miami Herald report] of the speed at which trials by the military commission moved, and Rishikof had been responsible for several controversial decisions. Recently, he rejected a proposed charge sheet for three former CIA captives held at Guantánamo on suspicion of plotting terror attacks in Southeast Asia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing.

Replacing the two officials are retired Army colonel and Defense Logistics Agency [official website] attorney Jim Coyne as acting convening authority, and long-serving commission deputy Mark Toole as acting legal advisor. However, this decision comes just two weeks before a captive turned government witness is due to return to Saudi Arabia to serve a terrorism sentence under a plea agreement approved by an earlier convening authority under the Obama administration.

The Office of the Convening Authority [official website] is responsible for the overall management of the military commissions process, including logistics and personnel support. The Convening Authority is empowered to convene military commissions, refer charges to trial, negotiate pre-trial agreements, and review records of trial. They also provide the accused an opportunity for clemency before taking action on the findings and sentence of all military commission cases.

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