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Ex-Marine lawyer gets top job overseeing Guantánamo war court

Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Vaughn A. Ary testifies before the U.S. Senate Arms Services Committee, on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C., June 4, 2013.
Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Vaughn A. Ary testifies before the U.S. Senate Arms Services Committee, on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C., June 4, 2013. Department of Defense

The Pentagon disclosed Tuesday that it had installed a recently retired Marine lawyer to run the war court at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Retired Maj. Gen. Vaughn A. Ary began work Monday as “convening authority for military commissions,” said Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a Pentagon spokesman for Guantánamo issues.

Ary also has the title of Director of the Office of Military Commissions. It is a three-year civilian post covered by the Senior Executive Service, Caggins said. Ary reports to the deputy secretary of defense.

Ary retired in July as the Marine Corps Commandant’s senior attorney. He got his law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1987, according to his biography, and then began a 27-year military career.

Caggins called him “a noted expert on international and military law,” and said he would be based in the Washington, D.C., area. His predecessor, retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, split his time between the East and West Coasts, where he set up an office because he had a home in Washington state.

Ary’s job includes deciding which charges to approve, potentially blessing plea agreements, assigning U.S. military officers to jury pools and deciding which trial experts and services to fund.

Last year, according to a Marine Times article, the Pentagon’s inspector general investigated a complaint that Ary and other Marine officers “inappropriately inserted themselves into the prosecution of cases stemming from the infamous video showing scout snipers urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan.”

Ary “was cleared,” Caggins said, adding: “Those allegations were unfounded.”

Caggins said Ary visited Guantánamo once, in 2011 — on a new generals’ tour of various bases and installations called Capstone. Capstone officers typically get to visit the Camp Justice compound where the Pentagon is staging the military commissions, the war court proceedings overseen by the convening authority.

In 2013, President Barack Obama ordered the Department of Defense to set up a second site inside the United States to hold military commissions. Officials have been unable to confirm that this was done, but, if so, Ary would have oversight of that war court compound as well.

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