Courtesy of Jason Wright
Jason Wright, seen here during his 15-month deployment to
Iraq, served in the military for nine years before resigning last week.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind behind the
Sept. 11 attacks, is facing a military commission at Guantanamo Bay and
potentially the death penalty. He was captured in 2003 but his case
still hasn't gone to trial.
Last week, Maj. Jason Wright — one
of the lawyers defending Mohammed — resigned from the Army. He has
accused the U.S. government of "abhorrent leadership" on human rights
and due process guarantees and says it is crafting a "show trial."
joined the military in 2005. He served 15 months in Iraq during the
surge and has worked as a Judge Advocate. For nearly three years, he
served on Mohammed's defense team.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has claimed to be the mastermind of
the Sept. 11 attacks and multiple attempted attacks against the U.S.
Wright formally resigned on Aug. 26. Earlier this year, the Army
had instructed him to leave the team in order to complete a graduate
course that was required with his promotion from Captain to Major. He
refused the order; he says it would have been unethical for him to have
Asking For Trust, Wearing The Captors' Uniform
tells NPR's Arun Rath that it's hard to gain any client's trust, but it
was especially hard with Mohammed. His former client is one of six
"high-value detainees" being prosecuted at Guantanamo for offenses that
could carry the death penalty.
"All six of these men have been tortured by the U.S. government," he says.
says Mohammed in particular has faced a level of torture "beyond
comprehension." He says his client was waterboarded by the CIA 183 times
and subjected to over a week of sleep deprivation; there were threats
that his family would be killed. "And those are just the declassified
facts that I'm able to actually speak about," Wright says.
Given that treatment, Wright knew it would be hard for Mohammed to trust him.
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," he says. "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."
Wright wasn't allowed to discuss too many details of the detainee abuse in court. He references a recent Foreign Policy article by Laura Pitter, of Human Rights Watch, about the notion of "original sin" and how it's complicated terrorism cases.
'original sin' being the fact that the CIA tortured these men and that
they've gone to extraordinary lengths to try to keep that completely
hidden from public view," Wright says. "So the statute that Congress
passed has a number of protections to ensure that no information about
the U.S. torture program will ever come out."
Fighting Government's Influence
He says there are additional constraints on the defense teams that have made it hard to operate — including allegations of listening devices disguised as smoke detectors in attorney-client meeting rooms.
not only do you have statutory design, but you actually have, in
practice, a very large effort to try to ensure that no ensure that no
information about torture is ever made known in public," he says.
The hardest thing to deal with as a defense layer, he says, is fighting the government's influence.
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," he says.
The larger strategic implication for the government, he says, is
that it gives a license for the rest of the world to torture and "set up
secret military courts outside of public review and outside of due
"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," he says. "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
Wright says it doesn't matter what happens at
trial; the government likely won't release the defendants even if they
are acquitted. He contrasts it with the Nuremberg trials after World War
II, where the chief prosecutor promised Nazi war criminals would be set
free if they weren't found guilty.
"We have a system where if
someone's acquitted, they will not be set free," he says. "That is
actually the very definition of a show trial."
this year, the Army instructed Wright to leave the team in order to
complete a required graduate course with his promotion from Captain to
Major. The course can be deferred for a variety of reasons; Wright had
already deferred once. But his latest request for a deferral was denied
"So really I only had two choices," he
says. "I could either accept and voluntarily leave my own self from the
case and my obligations to my client. Or I could refuse the orders."
decided would be an ethical violation to abandon his client
voluntarily, so he refused the orders. "And when you refuse the orders,
you have to resign from the Army," he says.
Wright served his last day on Mohammed's defense team; he formally resigned from the Army on Aug. 26.
He believes his departure will be very disruptive to the Mohammed case and potentially the other defense teams.
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
half-way 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," he says.
saga has stretched out for years — he was captured in 2003 but the
government didn't bring charges until 2012. Wright says he can't
speculate how long it will take for a trial to start.
NPR asked the Pentagon to comment on Wright's interview. A spokesman from the Army wrote:
Judge Advocate General denied the second deferral request because a
suitable and competent military defense attorney replacement was
available, Major Wright was not the lead or sole counsel, and it ensured
Major Wright remained professionally competent and competitive for
And a spokesman for the
military commissions also disputes Wright's characterization of the
commission, including his allegations of planted listening devices. He wrote:
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."
However, there are ongoing investigations into allegations that the FBI attempted to make a member of a detainee's legal team into a confidential informant.
government also disputes Wright's claim that the proceedings amount to a
show trial, saying, "The on-going detention of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
is fully consistent with the law of armed conflict, and that detention
is reviewable by petition for habeas corpus in United States federal civilian court."
They also point to the convicted detainees who have served out their sentences and returned to their home countries.