Judge tackles terrorism in Guantanamo Bay
By Richard Byrne Reilly
Published: Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The sea is warm, the weather almost perfect. The only problem is the neighbors - nearly 500 suspected al-Qaida and other terrorist suspects living a short distance away.
Bethel Park District Judge Robert Wyda began a one-year deployment in February to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to work on cases against the nearly 500 terror suspects being held at Camp Delta. He works six days a week, as a commander in the Naval Reserves Judge Advocate General Corps.
"This is about as close to the front lines on the war on terror as you can get, and what scares me about the nature of this enemy is that it will someday cause my 14-year-old son to have to go to a foreign shore and fight," Wyda, 44, said in a telephone interview. "We've never had an enemy like this in our history, one that would rather die for their cause than fight."
"The question is, how do you deal with an enemy that actually wants to die?" he said.
Commission hearings occur once a month at the tightly guarded Camp Delta. Wyda, who attends as an observer, is primarily responsible for analyzing evidence on terror suspects captured in Afghanistan and presenting his findings to the U.S. Defense Department's Criminal Investigative Task Force.
"It's very challenging. My job is to advise the investigating agents on their investigations," Wyda said. "The tribunal involves not just the four branches of the military, but also the other agencies in the national security community."
Camp Delta houses 490 terror suspects from 40 countries. No new detainees have arrived on the island since October 2004, said Guantanamo Bay Joint Task Force spokesman Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin.
Retired senior magistrate district judges will fill in for Wyda until he returns, said Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Joseph James, who knows Wyda well. James said he supports Wyda's mission, but will be happy to see him return.
"He's very popular. We look forward to getting him back on the bench in Bethel Park," James said.
This is Wyda's second stint in the reserves since President Bush ordered attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001. Wyda spent four months in Afghanistan in 2003, presenting findings to criminal investigators about suspected terrorists captured by coalition forces.
Wyda's current mission is more sobering, he said.
"I thought Afghanistan was a glamorous adventure. It was exciting. It was something as a Navy lawyer I was privileged to be a part of. Gitmo is still an adventure, but the glamor is gone. The excitement has given way to steady determination to get the job done and go home," Wyda said.
Wyda was elected district judge in 2000 and re-elected to a second six-year term in January. He previously worked seven years as an Allegheny County assistant district attorney and as an assistant court administrator for legal affairs in Common Pleas Court. He earned a law degree from Duquesne University.
Bethel Park police Chief John Mackey said many people in the community support the work Wyda is doing. He and Wyda have worked closely on drug cases, favoring treatment over jail time for first-time offenders.
"Rob is a dynamic guy. He's a lot of fun. Of course we miss him," Mackey said.
The military informed Wyda three days before Christmas that he was being recalled to active duty. The news stunned Wyda, who sat his wife down to break the news. As he began to explain his new mission, his wife cut him off, telling him that any news regarding the deployment would have to wait until after Christmas, Wyda said. They have two children.
"Sitting on a rock with 500 terrorists in your backyard is not fun," Wyda said. "But the time here goes by quickly. Everybody is in the same boat. And most of us are thankful we're here. It could be worse."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Steelers know when to say goodbye
- Analysis: Kesler remains on Penguins’ radar as Shero looks bring back ‘Big 3’ formula
- Pirates’ big risk with pitch-heavy draft focus might soon pay off
- Ex-Colts executive Polian: Approach free agency with caution
- Ukrainians steel to resist Russian aggression
- With so many needs, Steelers can ill afford to miss in draft
- Penguins GM Shero’s deadline deals: Addition by subtraction
- IUP students have raucous early St. Patrick’s Day celebration
- Greensburg bishop’s time at helm draws to a close
- Obama losing close adviser to end 9 years of service
- Pitt rallies in final seconds of regulation en route to OT win at Clemson