Womack also described Pohl as one of the military's most methodical and careful crafters of judicial rulings to make sure they stand up to appellate scrutiny, a skill set he likely acquired in the early 1990s while working at the government appellate division in Falls Church, Va., defending Army convictions.
When he got the Abu Ghraib case, said Womack, Pohl kept "all of them, which is typical" -- a practice Pohl has repeated at Guantanamo by handling all the trials of the former CIA captives.
Womack called Pohl's judicial style "dictatorial," and said the judge preferred to meet defense and prosecution attorneys in chambers, out of earshot of the public and off the record, before each day to map out how the session would proceed.
Of the 9/11 trial, said Womack, "Col. Pohl would be the judge of choice for this case either because he doesn't want to be reversed, or because he wants to mean well. You need a strong judge; a weak judge would never get it done."
At the same time, he has shunned the spotlight.
Pohl wouldn't be interviewed for this profile.
He travels incognito, in jeans and polo shirt, no colonel's uniform for him. And he has stood in line to check in for the war court charter flight from Andrews Air Force Base undetected by reporters, legal observers, enlisted troops, even some lawyers going to Guantanamo, too.
An ex-Army prosecutor calls him "ego-less." David calls him "humble," and, oddly for a man so private, "someone that could do those commercials for Dove soap for men. He is very comfortable in his skin!"
Omitted from Pohl's terse court biography is that he was sworn in as a judge on May 19, 2000, after completing the Army's "Military Judge Course" with perfect scores on his final exams and graded practical exercises. That makes him the longest serving judge currently in the U.S. military. His biography also does not mention that he's been retained past his retirement date, Oct. 1, 2010, and serves in a special status that requires renewal each year.
At Guantanamo, it's hard to spot him around the base, where he mostly splits his time between the court and his quarters. On a sticky evening in April, military lawyers donned crisp uniforms and civilians put on suits and ties to climb a hill to the old tribunal building and meet the judge in his chambers.
They found Pohl in jeans and loafers, no socks, and a pink sports shirt.
By gavel-down the next morning, he was in his Class Bs, the new Army uniform with a gold stripe down the trousers, topped by a black robe -- commissions business attire.
Sometimes, you can see him at dinner in a corner booth at O'Kelly's pub. But, unlike the lawyers and reporters, who mingle and make small talk, he keeps the company of his staff, and he doesn't linger at the bar.
Pohl comes to the 9/11 case from the peculiar position of having been passed over for promotion to general and retained past retirement, meaning "he's got nobody he has to please," says retired Lt. Col. Victor M. Hansen, who spent 20 years as an Army lawyer and now teaches at New England Law School.
Hansen says Pohl has the judicial independence to throw out a case for insufficient evidence, no matter how high profile. "He would not bat an eye, and sleep like a baby that night."
Guantanamo's death penalty cases present Pohl with grave issues in a still-evolving system.
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