Two officials overseeing the beleaguered military commission process were fired last month because of efforts they made to obtain an aerial photo of the area used to host the tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Pentagon officials said in a court filing released on Thursday.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said he dismissed a veteran national security lawyer who served as the “convening authority” of the military commissions, Harvey Rishikof, because he asked military personnel to capture fresh images of the complex and then took his request to the U.S. Coast Guard when military officials turned him down.
“I was made aware that Mr. Rishikof failed to ensure the most basic coordination was conducted for his USCG aerial imagery request and that the appropriate officials at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, including security officials, were not informed,” Mattis wrote in a sworn declaration dated March 16.
The Pentagon’s top lawyer, acting General Counsel William Castle, said in a separate declaration that he sacked the top legal adviser in Rishikof’s office, Gary Brown, in part because of the same aerial photo episode.
Castle said that the military command involved gave Rishikof and Brown a picture from 2014, but that they insisted that was not recent enough.
Castle, however, said his reasons for dismissing Brown went beyond that issue and included a failure to notify Castle’s office about a reorganization proposal that Brown and Rishikof presented to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan last December.
Castle also said that lawyers in his office were of the view that Rishikof and Brown “alternated between not coordinating administrative aspects of their jobs and coordinating in a needlessly disruptive and divisive manner.”
Defense lawyers for one of the alleged Qaeda operatives held at Guantanamo and charged in the military commission asked the military judge to inquire into the firings, which were not explained by the Pentagon at the time. Various Guantanamo defense attorneys said they suspected that Rishikof and Brown were fired because of dissatisfaction with how they responded to complaints about microphones found in attorney-client meeting spaces at Guantanamo, by their efforts to defuse a dispute over the refusal of the defense team’s chief to testify in front of a military judge, or by the slow pace of litigation at the tribunals.
In a response ordered by the military judge, Mattis and Castle both said those issues did not affect their actions with regard to the firings. In addition, the defense secretary said he had nothing to do with Brown’s dismissal.
Rishikof and Brown did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday evening.
Rishikof had no uniformed military experience before he was named by Mattis to the post overseeing the commissions last April. However, the attorney had practiced in the national security area for years, headed an American Bar Association committee on national security law and served in a top legal post at the FBI. His appointment was in the works before President Donald Trump took office, sources said.
Brown is a retired Air Force colonel who served as the top legal counsel for U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Maryland, before taking the military commission-related job last April.