Army Judge in Chelsea Manning Case Now Working at Guantanamo

Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning

The Army judge presiding at the Sept. 11 terror trial has added a new adviser to his staff -- the former military judge who presided at the 2013 court martial of Private Chelsea Manning.

Retired Army Col. Denise R. Lind, who finished her career this month on the Army's Court of Criminal Appeals, has been hired by the Pentagon division responsible for the war court here as a "senior attorney adviser." She will work with the Military Commissions Trial Judiciary, whose chief is Army Col. James L. Pohl, the 9/11 judge.

Both are here for this week's effort to get pretrial hearings back on track in the Sept. 11 conspiracy case after one of the five alleged conspirators in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil expressed interest in serving as his own lawyer at the complex death-penalty trial.

As an Army judge, Lind presided over the court martial of Manning, then Bradley Manning, and convicted the soldier of violating the Espionage Act by leaking more than 700,000 government files to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks. Manning had opted for a judge-only trial rather than have the case heard by a military jury.

Lind then sentenced Manning to 35 years in prison. Lind's sentence was more lenient than the 60 years proposed by Army prosecutors.

The New York Times at the time described her sentence as "the longest ever handed down in a case involving a leak of United States government information for the purpose of having the information reported to the public."

At the trial, she had ruled Manning's conditions were too severe during his 2010-2011 detention at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, where he was at times denied clothing and kept in a windowless cell 23 hours a day, awarding him 112 days off his sentence.

Among the documents Manning was convicted of leaking were the 2006-08 military profiles of most of the 780 or so war-on-terror captives held across the years at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. They are marked "SECRET" and offered a window into the thinking of prison and military intelligence staff compiling the dossiers in those years, as well as the information at that time about the captives' identities, capture and behavior at the prison.

The alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his four alleged accomplices were among them.

So, in joining the judge's team, Lind comes from a recent, complicated high-profile national security trial that involved abusive conditions of confinement to an even more complicated, high-profile national security trial that alleges torture. In both cases, public interest groups have fought for greater transparency.

New York attorney Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, observed portions of the Manning trial and sued on behalf of the civil liberties legal group to secure the release of unclassified rulings and motions in the case as swiftly in federal court.

On Wednesday, Ratner described Lind as "a pro-government judge," and her sentence of Manning "severe."

Lind relied on court-martial practice that withheld much of the public record until after the trial was over. So Ratner's team went to federal court.

"She read her orders out at such speed that we could not follow," he recalled. "I don't think this bodes well for shaking up the 9/11 trials and making them more law compliant, if that is even possible."

Lind has also taught a law course at George Washington University Law School called "The Craft of Judging," according to the school's associate dean for academic affairs, Lisa Schenck.

Schenck, a former Army colleague, described the colonel as an avid runner and model of fairness in a 2013 Washington Post profile ahead of the Manning trial.

"She'll go through every bit of evidence and every element of proof, and she will be 100 percent sure that the government meets its burden," Schenck told the Post. "She is the most thorough person that you could put on that trial."

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