GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE—Army Maj. Jason Wright, a member of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s defense team, informed the court Thursday morning that he will be retiring from the military in order to continue defending his client, who stands accused of orchestrating the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
Wright informed Judge James Pohl that he undertook a "forced separation" from the Army and tendered his resignation in late March in order to continue serving on Mohammed’s defense team.
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Wright explained that all Army majors designated as judge advocates must attend a graduate course at JAG school in Virginia. Though he deferred the course last year, the judge advocate general denied his request this year, meaning that he must attend the course or resign from the service.
"On 26 February I was given the choice of either voluntarily severing the attorney-client relationship and going to this course or being forced to voluntarily sever the attorney-client relationship by resigning from the military," Wright explained in court. "So on 26 March I tendered my resignation."
Wright said he feels compelled to maintain the integrity of his defense on Mohammed’s behalf.
"The reason is that the resignation allows me to represent Mr. Mohammad that much longer," he said. "Were I to be compelled to attend the graduate course, I would be out of the service effectively in this case in July."
These circumstances "left me with an option: Do I represent the best interests of my client or do I represent the best interests of the U.S. Army. And in this situation, I had to choose representing the best interests of my client," Wright said.
Wright’s "order to separate from the military" has already been issued and he will "become ‘Mr. Wright’" on Aug. 26.
One relative of the 9/11 victims gathered at Guantanamo Bay this week criticized Wright’s decision during a press conference with reporters.
"Today in court I saw a young Army officer have to make a choice because of a career requirement to go to some professional career military education," said Donald Arias, whose brother Adam was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
"He had to make a choice between defending Khalid Sheik Mohammed or his army career," he said. "He chose to defend Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. These are career-making cases for attorneys. And it is not without a fair degree of cynicism I say this. I mean, who makes that choice unless it’s a career option?"
Meanwhile, defense lawyers in the terrorism trial have filed a motion to compel the CIA to provide them with detailed information about its highly classified rendition program, which includes a series of "black sites."
Defense attorney James Connell told reporters that he is asking the prosecution to produce documents on the secret CIA program, including site locations, transportation records, information on the identities of guards and interrogators, and notes relating to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.
The motion was filed in response to a recent court order from Pohl compelling the release of this information in a separate terror case related to the bombing of the USS Cole.
Connell told reporters that the defense has been provided with just 4 percent of the FBI’s records detailing the investigation into 9/11. The defense has not received a single document from the CIA, he said.
The government prosecution in the 9/11 hearings also took steps to insulate itself from an FBI investigation into the defense.
The court learned on Monday that two FBI special agents recruited a member of the defense to serve as an informant for what appears to be an investigation into the improper handling and release of Mohammed’s jailhouse writings.
In an attempt to keep prosecutors from experiencing a conflict, they have appointed a special trial counsel to handle proceedings related to FBI investigation.
Department of Justice official Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez has been selected to fill this role, they said.
The pre-trial hearings are set to resume again in mid-June.