Ralph Kohlmann

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Ralph H. Kohlmann
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1980-2009
Rank Colonel

Ralph H. Kohlmann is an American lawyer and officer in the United States Marine Corps.[1][2]


date institution
1980 Bachelor of Science, United States Naval Academy
1987 Juris Doctor, The Delaware Law School, Widener University
1994 Master of Law (Military Law), The Judge Advocate General’s School, U.S. Army
2002 Master of Arts (National Security and Strategic Studies), United States Naval War College

Military career[edit]

For his first seven years as an officer Kohlmann served as a combat engineer.[2] He switched to the Judge Advocate General Corps in 1987.

Service in Guantanamo for the Office of Military Commissions[edit]

On December 18, 2005 Kohlmann was announced as a Presiding Officer for the Guantanamo Military Commissions.[3]

On Friday January 6, 2006 the Department of Defense officially appointed Kohlmann to preside over Binyam Mohammed's military commission.[4] In its ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld the United States Supreme Court ruled that President George W. Bush lacked the constitutional authority to create military commissions.

The Supreme Court had ruled that the United States Congress did have the constitutional authority create military commissions, and Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 a few months later, re-instituting military commissions very similar to the earlier Presidentially authorized commissions.

On December 13, 2007 the New York Times reported that Kohlmann was appointed to serve as a Chief judge by the Office of Military Commissions.[1]

Ordered Peter Brownback's replacement[edit]

On May 29, 2008 an e-mail from Kohlmann announced that a new officer was appointed to replace Peter Brownback.[5][6] The initial lack of explanation triggered commentators to question Brownback's firing.[7][8][9][10] Captain Andre Kok, a spokesperson for the Office of Military Commissions, claimed there had been "a mutual decision between Col. Brownback and the Army that he revert to his retired status when his current active-duty orders expire in June."[11]

Commenting on this issue, the American Civil Liberties Union pointed to Brownback's decision to wait until the Prosecution complied with his order to make public Khadr's detention records—which may have substantiated his claims his incriminating statements were the product of abuse. They wrote the Pentagon "is unwilling to let judges exercise independence if it means a ruling against the government."

In writing about Kohlmann's reassignment of the Khadr case, the Washington Post asked readers to:[12]

"Imagine if, during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Judge Lance Ito ordered the district attorney's office to hand over DNA samples and logs of O.J.'s stay in county jail after his arrest. Then imagine that the prosecutors refused to do so. And that, instead of being fined for contempt of court (or thrown in jail themselves), these same prosecutors somehow got their boss to get Ito tossed off the bench. And then the D.A.'s office worked behind the scenes to replace Ito with a more, shall we say, compliant judge."[12]

Subsequently The Pentagon claimed that the decision that Brownback would resign was mutual.[7] But Kohlmann issued a statement on June 2, 2008, that Brownback had been willing to continue to serve as a military judge. Brownback was a retired officer who had been recalled to active duty in 2004 to serve as the first judge on the first Military Commissions. Kohlmann said "My detailing of another judge was completely unrelated to any actions that Col. Brownback has taken in this or any other case. Any suggestion that Col. Brownback asked to return to retired status before the case of US v. Khadr was completed is also incorrect."

Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler, Omar Khadr's assigned military lawyer, noted that authorities had been advertising for new officers to volunteer to serve on the Military Commissions, and called the decision "odd to say the least".[7] According to Carol J. Williams, writing in the Los Angeles Times Kuebler said:[11]

"We need to investigate the matter further. Whatever the case, this seriously undermines whatever integrity these proceedings possessed before."[11]

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial[edit]

In September 2008, he presided as judge at the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.[13]

Marine Corps Retirement[edit]

In November 2008, Department of Defence officials announced that Kohlmann was relinquishing his duties as the Military Judge in the military commissions of the 9-11 hijackers.[14][15] Due to his impending retirement, Kohlmann detailed Colonel Stephen Henley, U.S. Army, to replace him as the Military Judge in the 9-11 cases. Kohlmann continued to serve as the Chief Judge of the Military Commissions until December 2008. He was succeeded in that position by Colonel James Pohl, U.S. Army. Kohlmann accepted a position as a civilian attorney in the Department of the Navy Office of General Counsel in January 2009.

Civilian life[edit]

At it 2012 annual meeting the American Bar Association hosted a presentation entitled "The Renewed Trials by Military Commission Under the Obama Administration: An Historical Perspective".[16] Kohlmann and several other current and former key figures in the military commission system participated in the presentation.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b William Glaberson (December 13, 2007). "From a Critic of Tribunals to Top Judge". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-10. Back in 2002, a master’s degree candidate at the Naval War College wrote a paper on the Bush administration’s plan to use military commissions to try Guantánamo suspects, concluding that “even a good military tribunal is a bad idea.”

    It drew little notice at the time, but the paper has gained a second life because of its author’s big promotion: Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann of the Marines is now the chief judge of the military commissions at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. 

  2. ^ a b c "Ralph H. Kohlmann: Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps" (PDF). United States Air Force. p. page 6. Archived from the original on 2008-05-26. Retrieved 2008-05-29. 
  3. ^ "US military tribunals set up to judge two Guantanamo prisoners". Daily Times (Pakistan). 2005-12-18. Retrieved 2008-08-02.  mirror
  4. ^ "Military Commission charges referred" (PDF). The Wire (JTF-GTMO). January 6, 2006. Retrieved 2008-02-22. [dead link]
  5. ^ Jane Sutton (May 29, 2008). "Guantanamo judge dismissed in Canadian's case". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2008-05-29. 
  6. ^ Michael Melia (May 29, 2008). "Gitmo judge removed from Canadian's case". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2008-05-29. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b c Jane Sutton (2012-06-02). "Chief judge defends replacement of Guantanamo judge". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Kohlmann notified lawyers last week that a new judge had been assigned to the case but did not give a reason, prompting criticism in the United States and Canada. 
  8. ^ "Military judge in Khadr case wasn't replaced for his rulings, boss says". CBC News. 2008-06-02. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Col. Ralph Kohlmann took the unusual step of issuing a statement about the dismissal of Col. Peter Brownback, saying it was "unrelated" to any of his cases. 
  9. ^ "Gitmo Chief Judge defends integrity of Tribunals". MSNBC. 2008-06-08. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Chief judge Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann said he was making the rare public statement because last week's dismissal of Col. Peter Brownback raised questions about the independence of military officers presiding over tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base in Cuba. 
  10. ^ "Khadr's judge dumped". Niagara Falls Review. 2008-05-30. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. The U.S. military judge who has been presiding over Omar Khadr's terror case was dumped Thursday, three weeks after he threatened to halt proceedings if the prosecution failed to release the Canadian's detention records. 
  11. ^ a b c Carol J. Williams (2008-05-31). "Judge critical of war crimes case is ousted: The Army colonel had threatened to suspend proceedings unless prosecutors handed over key records to the defense". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2012-08-06. Asked about Brownback's removal, Air Force Capt. Andre Kok, a tribunal spokesman, said it was "a mutual decision between Col. Brownback and the Army that he revert to his retired status when his current active-duty orders expire in June." 
  12. ^ a b Phillip Carter (2008-06-02). "The Gitmo Circus". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2012-08-06. According to this report from Carol Williams in the Los Angeles Times, this bizarre story is precisely what happened over the weekend in the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian charged with murder, conspiracy and supporting terrorism. 
  13. ^ Yahoo News article
  14. ^ "Military judge in 9/11 case replaced". Agence France Presse. 2008-11-17. Retrieved 2008-11-17. 
  15. ^ David Morgan (2008-11-17). "Chief military judge in Guantanamo to retire early". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-11-17. 
  16. ^ "Annual Meeting: Program Book" (PDF). American Bar Association. 2012-08-02. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  17. ^ Terry Carter (2012-08-04). "Military Commission Lawyers Defend Their Work, Concede Flaws in the System's Earlier Iterations". American Bar Association Journal. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 

External links[edit]