Federal judge overturns contempt conviction of Guantánamo defense counsel
TayebMEZAHDIA / Pixabay

Federal judge overturns contempt conviction of Guantánamo defense counsel

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Monday overturned [opinion, PDF] the contempt conviction of a Marine general.

Judge Royce Lamberth overturned the contempt conviction of Marine Brigadier General John Baker, chief defense counsel at the Guantánamo Bay military tribunals. Baker was convicted [JURIST report] in November by Air Force Col. Vance Spath following Baker’s refusal to vacate the release of three civilian defense lawyers from the USS Cole [text] case.

In support of his decision to overturn the conviction, Lamberth opined that Spath lacked authority to convict Baker, finding that such authority lies solely with the military commission of the USS Cole case under Chapter 47A Section 950t(31) [text, PDF]. Lamberth wrote:

Judge Spath acted unlawfully when he unilaterally convicted General Baker of criminal contempt and sentenced him for that contempt. He usurped a power that belongs solely to the members of the commission, voting as a body. [The statute does not] authorize unilateral findings of guilt and sentencing by the military judge without the input of members. Such an interpretation would undermine the entire military commission system and essentially authorize bench trials for all the crimes [under the statute].

Lamberth also found that Spath was not member of the military commission under various provisions of Chapter 47A [text, PDF].