The chief of the Guantánamo war court has appointed the Army colonel who presided at the Fort Hood shooting trial to handle the Majid Khan guilty plea, adding a new judge to the war court judiciary.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, would only say by way of explanation that the rules for military commissions give the chief judge the authority to assign cases to other judges from the pool provided by the different U.S. military services.
Army Col. Tara A. Osborn, the new Khan case judge, may be best known in civilian circles as the judge who presided at the capital court-martial of Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the psychiatrist who killed 13 people in a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas. Osborn took over the Hasan case in late 2012 after a military appeals court ousted the original case judge for, among other things, ordering the Muslim Army major to shave his beard.
Osborn let him keep the beard. Hasan is now on Death Row at Fort Leavenworth, appealing his sentence.
Army Col. James L. Pohl assigned Osborn to the case March 11, meaning she will preside at Khan’s next war court appearance May 11-12.
Army Col. Tara Osborn, the newest military commissions judge, is due at the war court in May.
In February 2012, Khan, 36, pleaded guilty to war crimes including providing material support for terrorism by acting as a courier of cash linked to the Aug. 5, 2003, terrorist bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Eleven people were killed and at least 81 were wounded in the suicide truck bombing, which occurred after Khan was in CIA custody.
Pohl took the plea, in which Khan agreed to turn government witness. Khan’s attorney, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, told reporters that day that Khan was “going to join Team America, do the right thing to make sure that he has a chance for a productive, meaningful life.” But he has yet to testify in any case.
So Pohl has twice postponed sentencing, currently until 2019. Meantime, the judge scheduled the May 11-12 hearings to tweak Khan’s plea because an appeals court subsequently disqualified providing material support as a legitimate war crime. He also pleaded guilty to murder and spying charges, as well as conspiracy.
Khan was arrested in Pakistan and handed over to the CIA in March 2003. He got to Guantánamo in 2006 and has appeared at the war court only once, to submit the plea. Since then, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s so-called Torture Report disclosed that Khan was “rectally infused” at an undisclosed CIA agency “black site” with a “food tray” of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins. His attorneys then doubled-down on that description by disclosing other alleged episodes of abuse, including water torture and systematic deprivation of sunlight — claims that could be presented at his eventual sentencing hearing to reduce his recommended release of 2031 at the earliest.
A brief biography issued by Fort Hood at the time of the Hasan trial said Osborn joined the Army in January 1988, meaning she has less than two years to retirement absent an extension, like Pohl has repeatedly gotten to run the Guantánamo war court. She has served in Europe and Asia, including during Operation Desert Storm and obtained two Kuwait Liberation Medals, one for time in Kuwait, another for time in Saudi Arabia. She apparently served as a legal adviser and an assistant operations officer to an all-male tank brigade headquarters during combat operations as one of only a handful of lawyers to cross into Iraq in that war.
She is also a recipient of a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, which covers a range of post- 9/11 conflict spots including Afghanistan and Iraq.
She got both her law and bachelor’s degrees from the University of South Carolina.
Pohl is still presiding at the complex capital conspiracy case of five Guantánamo captives accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He assigned Osborn to the Guantánamo case about five months after hiring another Army judge from another high-profile Army court-martial. Retired Col. Denise R. Lind, who presided at Private Chelsea Manning’s 2013 trial for leaking classified information, joined the chief judge’s staff in October as Pohl’s senior attorney adviser.
The mid-May Khan hearing could begin with in-court questioning of Osborn’s suitability to preside at the trial, an examination called voir dire used in the military justice system.
Verbatim | Pentagon statement
Rule for Military Commission 503(b) states that a military judge shall be detailed to preside over each Military Commission by the Chief Trial Judge of the Military Commissions from a pool of certified military judges nominated for that purpose by The Judge Advocates General of each of the military departments. On March 11, 2016, as the Chief Trial Judge of Military Commissions, Judge [James L.] Pohl exercised that authority in detailing Col. [Tara] Osborn as the Military Judge in U.S. v. Khan.