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Gitmo judge bars Pentagon official from trial

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  • Pentagon lawyer is ordered to stay out of trial of bin Laden's driver
  • Defense lawyer says ruling could complicate other prosecutions
  • Ousted adviser reportedly urged use of evidence considered tainted or unreliable
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(CNN) -- A military judge's ruling that a Pentagon lawyer improperly pressured prosecutors could hurt efforts to try top al Qaeda suspects held at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, a defense lawyer said Monday.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann has been ordered to stay out of the prosecution of Osama bin Laden's driver.

The ruling called allegations that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the Office of Military Commissions, exerted improper influence on the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan "troubling" and ordered Hartmann to stay out of the prisoner's prosecution.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said the ruling is likely to stall the pending case against Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, and complicate the prosecutions of other al Qaeda figures before the military courts set up by the Bush administration.

"It would seem that they need to go back to Square 1 wherever the HVD [high-value detainee] charges are concerned or risk the fact that they may be so tainted from the start that they will never survive," said Swift.

Friday's ruling by Navy Capt. Keith Allred follows the testimony of Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay. Davis resigned in October, saying the prosecutions had become "deeply politicized," and appeared as a defense witness for Hamdan at a hearing in late April.

The Pentagon had no comment Monday on the ruling.

Hartmann, an Air Force reservist, is the legal adviser to the Office of Military Commissions, the Pentagon agency set up to try suspected al Qaeda fighters at Guantanamo Bay. Among those prisoners are more than a dozen "high-value detainees" -- including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, accused of planning the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Swift, a former Navy lawyer, won a landmark 2006 Supreme Court ruling on Hamdan's behalf that threw out an earlier Pentagon-devised system for trying suspected terrorists.

He said Hamdan's case was largely prepared before Hartmann became the legal adviser to the military commissions and that the implications of last week's ruling "are probably far greater in other cases than in Hamdan's."

"Mr. Hartmann has been at the center of putting together the charges on the HVDs, and his conduct is no different when it comes to that," Swift said. "If anything, based on the testimony that's been put out there, he stepped over the line even further than when Mr. Hamdan was involved."

Hamdan has refused to take part in his trial, and his defense team has asked the Supreme Court to delay the proceedings until after it rules on the larger question of what legal rights non-citizen prisoners have.

In the 13-page order, Hartmann's actions include efforts to push Davis to use evidence "considered tainted and unreliable, or perhaps obtained as the result of torture or coercion" and pushing Davis to bring cases he considered "sexy" over lower-ranking suspects. Hartman also complained about the slow pace of the trials, the order said.

Allred found that prosecutors complained that Hartman "nano-managed" their cases, and said the attention drawn to his performance jeopardized the appearance of fairness in the entire military justice process.

Davis, who is scheduled to retire from the Air Force in October, said Monday that Hartmann "had a hand in drafting the charges" against Mohammed. And he said his complaints about Hartmann's interference may have scuttled a plea agreement last year in the Hamdan case.

"His job was to provide neutral, independent advice to the convening authority," he said. "He was supposed to be neutral, and he basically suited up and played for the prosecution."

Capt. Prescott Prince, the military attorney appointed to represent Mohammed, said the decision makes Hartmann's role in other cases "snakebitten."

Prince said he expects to meet with Mohammed this week at Guantanamo Bay, where the prisoner was transferred in September 2006 after three years in CIA custody. It will be his second meeting with Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003.

CNN's Mike Mount, Bill Mears and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

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