Third Guantanamo Detainee to Boycott Trial

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the Los Angeles Times

Third Guantanamo Detainee to Boycott Trial

by
Carol J. Williams

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA -- A Sudanese prisoner with long ties to Osama bin Laden told the war-crimes tribunal here Thursday that the Sept. 11 attacks dealt heavy blows to U.S. security and exposed the "hypocrisy" behind American claims that it stands for equality and justice.0411 07

Appearing at his arraignment, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud Qosi refused to accept legal representation for his trial before the Pentagon's military commissions.

After a rambling statement, he announced that he would boycott further proceedings.

The bearded 47-year-old was the third Guantanamo defendant in the last month to call the military tribunal illegitimate and refuse to cooperate in his own defense.

"I leave in your hands the camel and its load for you to do whatever you wish," he told Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, the judge preparing for his trial on charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism.

Qosi also accused the U.S. military of discrimination against citizens of the Third World, noting that two British detainees and an Australian charged along with him four years ago have since been released under pressure from those governments.

"The only war crime I committed and for which I'm being tried today before you and which I admit having committed is, in truth, my nationality," said the tall, slender Qosi. "My crime is that I'm a Sudanese citizen."

A day earlier, Saudi prisoner Ahmed Muhammed Ahmed Haza Darbi deemed the tribunal a "sham" and announced that he would boycott subsequent sessions. On March 12, Afghan defendant Mohammed Jawad also rejected the forum.

The succession of defendants refusing to cooperate with the tribunal puts the onus on the U.S. government to "show that this is not a complete sham," said Jamil Dakwar, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union observing the arraignment.

He said Qosi's claim of nationality bias called into question "the guarantee of equality before the law that is a hallmark of American justice."

The chief prosecutor for the commissions, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said that he was concerned about the boycotts but that the government remained committed to a just process.

Paul accepted Qosi's rejection of legal representation by Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier or any other lawyer willing to submit to the government's rules and practices.

Unlike U.S. federal courts, the Guantanamo tribunal permits hearsay evidence as well as information gleaned from coercion and makes no guarantee that the accused will be able to confront his accusers or know all the evidence against him.

Qosi said he would act as his own attorney and insisted on reading a statement.

Quoting an Al Jazeera analyst shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Qosi said they dealt harsh blows to the United States "militarily, economically, in security and spirit-wise."

He added that in his own view the attacks also hurt the United States legally because, he said, they led the country to violate its standards of human rights and justice.

"After the collapse of the towers, after the collapse of the Pentagon, all these false masks fell away and your wrongs were exposed," Qosi told the court. "The whole world has a headache from your hypocrisy."

Lachelier interrupted the defendant shortly after he began, urging the judge to order a psychological evaluation. Paul cut Qosi off after a few minutes, saying she feared he might be incriminating himself.

The defendant, who had been charged with a single count of conspiracy under the previous military commissions system four years ago, was cooperative with his defense team at that time but has twice refused to meet with Lachelier, according to the guard force of the Joint Task Force that runs the prisons.

Lachelier attempted to gain entrance to the facility where Qosi was being held to hear him tell her directly that he didn't want to go over his case.

"It is interfering with his right to counsel that we have to go through his jailers" to communicate with him, Lachelier said, adding that she was concerned Qosi had been threatened by guards not to accept legal assistance.

When she got her first glimpse of Qosi a few minutes before Thursday's arraignment, she said he appeared "very nervous, very distressed, frantic almost," a state she attributed in part to the security precautions during transport from the prison to the courthouse, among them hooding, shackling and ear protection to block out sound.

Paul ordered Lachelier to represent Qosi at any tribunal procedures he boycotts.

Lachelier said she was uncomfortable with that order, given that he had clearly rejected her.

She said she would have to consult with her bar association in California for ethical guidance on what role she should play.

The trial process recognizes a defendant's right to represent himself but insists that a lawyer take the lead in his defense if he is absent.

The issue of representing a defendant against his wishes surfaced in several of the 10 cases of Guantanamo detainees charged with war crimes under the previous process enacted by President Bush in November 2001 but struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June 2006.

An act of Congress created the current system three months later, and 14 of the 280 terrorism suspects held here have since been charged with war crimes or identified as likely to be charged soon.

© 2008 The Los Angeles Times

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