Lt. Col. Vandeveld served as a prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from May 2007 to September 2008. He went to bring “to justice detainees who President George Bush had said were ‘the worst of the worst,’” but eventually left Guantanamo because he concluded that he could not “ethically or legally prosecute” the case he was assigned. Lt. Col. Vandeveld admits that he arrived at Guantanamo as a “true believer” and brushed off stories of detainee abuse as “hyperbole.” One such case was that of young Afghan Mohammed Jawad. Jawad informed the court that he was a minor and that he had suffered horrible abuse during his detainment. Lt. Col. Vandeveld accused Jawad of “exaggerating and ridiculed his story as ‘idiotic’” and “railed against Jawad’s military defense attorney” for being a terrorist sympathizer.
The Lt. Col. thought that he was working on a simple case that would produce a quick conviction and prove that the Guantanamo Military Commissions worked. Little did Lt. Col. Vandeveld know that he was actually opening Pandora’s box. He discovered many serious issues including: abusive interrogations, evidence withheld from the defense, judicial incompetence, and confessions coerced through torture. When Lt. Col. Vandeveld brought these issues to his supervisors they were “harshly dismissive” of his concerns and “on some unspoken level, began to question my [his] loyalty, even though my [his] combat experience exceeded both of theirs combined.” Lt. Col. Vandeveld made the “enormously painful decision to ask to be reassigned” because he could not “in good conscience continue.”
Following his resignation, Lt. Col. Vandeveld was ordered by the military commission judge to testify for the defense in Jawad’s case. He spoke honestly under oath concerning the constitutional violations committed against Jawad including subjecting him to the sleep deprivation regime, known as the “frequent flier program,” which involved moving him to a different cell 112 times over a 14-day period-an average of once every 2 1/2 hours. In return for his honesty under oath and the public outrage that followed, the military issued him his first ever negative performance evaluation.
Lt. Col. Vandeveld was then subpoenaed in 2009 to testify before Congress regarding the Military Commissions Act of 2009, where he again spoke the truth, stating, "the military commission system is broken beyond repair. Even good faith efforts at revision…leave in place provisions that are illegal and unconstitutional." He also explained to Congress that trying to revise the commission system “place our men and women in uniform at risk of unfair prosecution by other nations abroad, harm the reputation of the United Sates,….[and] undermine the fundamental values of justice and liberty upon which this great country was founded.” Instead of taking his testimony seriously, the Army chose to retaliate against Lt. Col. Vandeveld for his courageous stand and also to resume the commissions at Guantanamo with minimal revisions.
Fortunately for Jawad, Lt. Col, Vandeveld’s testimony helped lead to the exclusion of his coerced confession and a federal judge granting his habeas corpus petition and releasing him from detention. However, just 4 months away from 20 years of outstanding service to our nation, Lt. Col. Vandeveld’s career is in jeopardy. On June 1, a military promotions board will meet, ironically, not to honor or promote Lt. Col. Vandeveld for his courage. The promotion board will more than likely to refer him to a show cause board where he would be forced to justify his continued service in the Army.
We cannot allow the reputation of a distinguished soldier to be destroyed because he defended the constitution that so many of our men and women have died to protect. Please take a few minutes before you head out to attend a Memorial Day parade or picnic to send a letter in support of Lt. Col. Vandeveld and forward it to your friends and family.