Military Names Air Force Judge for Guantánamo Bay 9/11 Trial

This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

WASHINGTON — An Air Force judge who was recently approved for promotion to colonel was chosen on Friday as the latest officer to preside in the long-running trial of five prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who are accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lt. Col. Matthew N. McCall, whose biography shows him working as a law clerk in Hawaii at the time of the attacks in 2001, becomes the fourth judge this year to handle the case. Among the previous judges, one chose to retire, another filled in on an administrative basis and the third lasted just two weeks before recusing himself, citing conflicts of interest.

Colonel McCall is currently serving as a deputy chief circuit judge for the Air Force at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

The Senate confirmed him as a colonel on July 30, although his official promotion has yet to take place. Once it becomes official, he would have to serve in the rank for three years to be eligible for full retirement with a colonel’s benefits, circumstances that suggest he could remain on the bench long enough to see the complex conspiracy case to a trial.

He has been deployed at least once to Iraq, for six months in 2006 and 2007, then focused on military defense work from 2008 to 2013. He was a defense lawyer in 2009 at the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in the Florida panhandle and also served as a senior defense counsel in Charleston, South Carolina.

According to his official biography, Colonel McCall has been a military judge since July 2019. The rules for military commissions trials require a judge at the war court to have “two years of experience as a military judge” in one of the services. It was not immediately known if the chief judge for military commissions, Col. Douglas K. Watkins, had the authority to waive that requirement when he assigned him to the case.

Colonel McCall fills the opening created earlier this month when a Marine colonel, Stephen F. Keane, recused himself two weeks after his appointment, because of personal ties to New Yorkers who were “directly affected” by the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

Before that, Col. W. Shane Cohen of the Air Force abruptly retired from service after setting a 2021 trial start date that is no longer viable because the coronavirus pandemic has stalled all court progress in the case.

Colonel McCall appears to have no such conflicts. An old LinkedIn profile shows he was a law clerk in Hawaii at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks and before that attended law school at the University of Hawaii. He obtained hs undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, with a concentration in Japanese literature and language. He was admitted to the Hawaii Bar on Nov. 1, 2001.

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