Susan J. Crawford, a retired U.S. judge, was the convening authority for military trials under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, appointed by Robert M. Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense, in February 2007. She retired in January 2010. Newsweek reported her replacement will be retired Admiral Bruce MacDonald, previously chief Judge Advocate General of the Navy.
She directed the military commission process and Office of Military Commissions. This includes deciding whether to charge persons as enemy combatants, pursuant to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, appointing members of the commissions, and reviewing commission verdicts and sentences.
She retired, in 2007, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the U.S. Armed Forces, during which she had been Chief Judge for five years. Prior to going onto the bench in 1991, Crawford had been general counsel of the United States Army, special counsel to the Secretary of Defense, and Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Crawford had been an Assistant State's Attorney for Garrett County, Maryland. She holds a law degree (1977) from the New England School of Law at Boston, and an undergraduate degree in history from Bucknell University.
Ruling on al-Qahtani
In January 2009, before the end of the George W. Bush Administration, she ruled that
We tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani...His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution. The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge [to call it torture]
She did not, however, free al-Qahtani; military prosecutors intend to file new charges. Crawford said that she agreed it was correct to build a special system for trying unlawful enemy combatants in operations about terrorism. As far as George W. Bush's implementation, she said "I think he hurt his own effort. . . . I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it...We learn as children it's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission...I think the buck stops in the Oval Office."
- "Seasoned Judge Tapped to Head Detainee Trials", DefenseLink, February 07, 2007, News Release No. 151-07
- Michael Isikoff (24 March 2010), "Pentagon to Name New Chief for Military Commissions in Sign That Gitmo Trials May Move Forward", Newsweek
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the U.S. Armed Forces
- Bob Woodward (January 14, 2009), "Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official: Trial Overseer Cites 'Abusive' Methods Against 9/11 Suspect", Washington Post