Jul 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Chief Guantanamo prosecutor announces abrupt retirement

Picture of Gen. Mark S. Martins

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins announced this week that he would be retiring ahead of the much-delayed trial of the five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the New York Times reports.

State of play: The retirement comes as a surprise since he had obtained an extension to serve until Jan. 1, 2023. Martins now will retire on Sept. 30, and no clear reason for his departure has been given, per the Times.

  • Martins' retirement was announced via a message to some of the families who lost loved ones on 9/11.
  • The message, obtained by NPR, was sent by Karen Loftus, director of the prosecution team's Victim Witness Assistance Program. Loftus noted that the 9/11 trial would begin soon after pausing due to the pandemic, and added: "this is the time to transition to new leadership."
  • While Martins was in charge of overseeing all war crime prosecutions at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, the 9/11 case —  set to resume during the first two weeks of September — has remained the most high profile.

The big picture: Martins' departure is the most recent setback in the process to bring the 9/11 case to trial (in which no military judge is presently assigned), NPR notes.

  • The defense is also set to lose its chief counsel, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, who is set to retire in November.
  • The same day that he announced his retirement, Martins asked the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review for more time to respond to an appeal for a different case.
    • “Was he asked to resign or did he quit in protest?” military defense attorney and Navy Capt. Brian L. Mizer asks in the Times story. “I don’t know.”

Context: The Obama administration decided in 2011 to pursue the prosecution of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices via the military tribunal system.

  • This case, in particular, has come up against repeated obstacles, including allegations of alleged torture of the defendants, as well as whether information obtained via torture could be used in court.

Between the lines: Most of the detainees held at Guantanamo have been released or transferred to different countries. President Biden has declared the end of the so-called "forever" war in Afghanistan and as the U.S. troop drawdown nears completion, questions remain about whether detainees captured on the battlefield can continue to be held.

What's next: Deputy chief prosecutor Michael O'Sullivan will become acting chief prosecutor once Martins retires in September.

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