A team of military lawyers recruited to defend alleged terrorists held by the US at Guantanamo Bay was dismissed by the Pentagon after some of its members rebelled against the unfair way the trials have been designed, the Guardian has learned.
And some members of the new legal defence team remain deeply unhappy with the trials - known as "military commissions" - believing them to be slanted towards the prosecution and an affront to modern US military justice.
Of the more than 600 detainees at the US prison camp at Guantanamo, none has been charged with any crime, and none has had access to a lawyer, although some have been in captivity of one kind or another for two years.
But the US has repeatedly promised that at least some of the prisoners will be charged and tried by military commissions, an arcane form of tribunal based on long-disused models from the 1940s.
When charged, a prisoner will be assigned a uniformed military defence lawyer. The prisoners have a theoretical right to a civilian lawyer, but the US has placed financial and bureaucratic obstacles in the way of this.
A former military lawyer with good contacts in the US military legal establishment said that the first group of defence lawyers the Pentagon recruited for Guantanamo balked at the commission rules, which insist, among other restrictions, that the government be allowed to listen in to any conversations between attorney and client.
"There was a circular that went out to military lawyers in the early spring of 2003 which said 'we are looking for volunteers' for defence counsel," said the ex-military lawyer. "There was a selection process, and the people they selected were the right people, they had the right credentials, they were good lawyers.
"The first day, when they were being briefed on the dos and don'ts, at least a couple said: 'You can't impose these restrictions on us because we can't properly represent our clients.'
"When the group decided they weren't going to go along, they were relieved. They reported in the morning and got fired that afternoon."