WASHINGTON – Charles Benjamin Gittings Jr., who for nearly nine years ran a website dedicated to stopping prisoner abuse in the war on terror from his home in Northern California, died Wednesday, prompting an outpouring of tributes from civil liberties attorneys from across the nation who worked with him to try to close the prison at the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Though not a lawyer, he had a lifelong interest in military tactics and law that led him to become an invaluable resource to some of the nation’s greatest experts in the field.

Just a week short of turning 58, Gittings died at his home in Fort Bragg, Calif., after a long battle with cancer.

“How very wrong it seems that Charlie is gone and that Guantanamo continues,” said Thomas Wilner, a Washington lawyer who represented groups of Guantanamo Bay prisoners and often sought Gittings’ advice on their legal rights. “When we finally close that horrible place down, we must put a plaque there commemorating Charlie’s contributions.”

Eugene Fidell, a professor of military law at Yale Law School, added that “when the history of this era is written, Charlie’s contribution and tenacity will be remembered.”

Not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the East Coast, Gittings created the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, a website he ran from his home that compiled torture memos, court filings, amicus briefs and other evidence of war crimes.

At the time, Gittings was divorced and had lost his job as a computer programmer. His interest in the military was ignited by reading Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” when he was 9 years old. So he decided to put his knowledge to work helping the lawyers represent the detainees.

“I was resolved to do whatever I could to help in this crisis,” Gittings said in a recent interview. “You can never prove these things, but I do think I made a difference.”

His evidentiary material often was used by lawyers representing detainees to challenge the George W. Bush administration’s justification for harsh treatment and lengthy sentences without trial for many of the prisoners captured in the war on terror. And after President Obama took office in January 2009 and failed to close the Guantanamo prison as he pledged, Gittings turned his attention on the new administration as well.

“I thought things would get a lot better under Obama,” he said in the interview. “But they’re still having these illegal kangaroo courts and the so-called military commissions and they’re still doing indefinite detentions without charges. And those are war crimes.”