Major Jason Wright, a military lawyer representing the interests of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is retiring from the U.S. Army, which was trying to force him off the defense team on the grounds that he needed to attend a graduate course this year.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is one of five accused Sept. 11 co-conspirators now in pretrial proceedings before a military commission at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, where they are also being held. The case is one of the most important in U.S. history, and the defendants could face the death penalty.
Every year, all Army majors designated as attorney must attend a graduate course in Virginia. Though he deferred the course last year, the Judge Advocate General of the Army denied Major Wrights request this year, meaning that he must either leave the case to attend the course or resign from the army.
“I had to make a legal and ethical decision as to what I was going to do in the best interest of my client, and I chose the option which 100 percent of all defense lawyers would choose. It’s one of these law school scenarios; it’s just being played out in real life.”
Major Wright was not provided any reasons for this denial:
“I asked for an explanation, and under established case law, whenever there’s an adverse agency determination, you’re entitled to know what the reason is,” Wright said. “I certainly haven’t been told why.”
Wright said there might be some way to keep him on the defense team in a civilian role.
Advocates who want to see the Sept. 11 case returned to federal court pointed to Wright’s situation as yet another example of how the military commissions process is broken.
“I wish the government would care as much about the rules
and fundamental principles of a fair trial as it does about a bureaucratic process for determining when a military defense attorney assigned to one of the most important cases in U.S. history — a death penalty case at that — should take a class,” said Zeke Johnson of Amnesty International.