Pentagon names new Guantanamo war crimes prosecutor

The Pentagon on Thursday named a Harvard Law trained career Army general as the chief war crimes prosecutor at Guantánamo, which has two major death penalty prosecutions in the pipeline, notably the 9/11 mass murder trial of five former CIA captives charged as co-conspirators.

In appointing Army Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, the Obama administration chose a 1983 West Point graduate who had served recently in Afghanistan and earlier as a staff attorney to Army Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq. Petraeus is President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency.

Martins also was one of two men in charge of Obama’s interagency Detention Policy Task Force created early in the administration with the mandate of reviewing Guantánamo detainee files to close the controversial detention center in Cuba by releasing some captives to foreign countries and relocating others to U.S. soil for federal or military trials. Congress thwarted that ambition.

Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top attorney, noted in a statement Thursday that in that task force capacity “Brig. Gen. Martins was himself instrumental in working with other agencies and with Congress in the passage of reforms codified in the Military Commissions Act of 2009.”

Martins starts in October, perhaps a signal of when the military commissions war court prosecutions might ramp up. He replaces a former federal prosecutor called up to the Navy Reserves, Capt. John F. Murphy, who will return to the U.S. Attorneys office in Louisiana. In the interim, the military appointed Murphy’s deputy, Air Force Col. Michael O’Sullivan, to serve as the acting chief prosecutor.

Martins is currently on assignment in Afghanistan, where he is commander of the Rule of Law Field Force.

Murphy presided over some successes at the war court, notably the negotiated guilty plea agreements in three Obama-era cases that averted full blown trials in the cases of Canadian Omar Khadr and Sudanese captives Ibrahim al Qosi and Noor Uthman Mohammed. Each man traded guilty pleas for short terms at Guantánamo. The Toronto-born Khadr admitted to the July 2002 grenade killing of a U.S. Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan in exchange for return to his native Canada by November of this year.

But the war court was mostly dark as the Obama administration reformed the controversial trial system that Murphy championed from a position that itself has been controversial.

During the Bush administration, chief prosecutors were replaced, retired and in one high-profile move Air Force Col. Morris “Moe” Davis publicly resigned amid differences with a general over strategy and the independence of the chief prosecutor’s position.

Martins brings prestigious credentials to the job, and the Pentagon announcement emphasized them.

“Martins finished first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point,” it said. “He was also a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served on the Harvard Law Review. In 2011, Martins received Harvard Law School’s Medal of Freedom.”