The Miami Herald

Lawyer seeks testimony of ex-presidents

In the latest twist in the Guantánamo terror tribunals, a lawyer for a suspected Sudanese terrorist wants to question former presidents Bush and Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer revealed the unusual tactic in a motion made public Friday on behalf of her client, alleged al Qaeda paymaster Ibrahim al Qosi.

Qosi, 44, is facing conspiracy charges in the first U.S. war-crimes tribunals since World War II.

Unlike fellow defendants Australian David Hicks and Yemeni Salim Hamdan, who are characterized as relative newcomers to al Qaeda, Qosi's charge sheets allege a 15-year involvement in the terror network.

ATTACK ON KHARTOUM

During the Clinton administration, the United States fired cruise missiles at the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in a strike aimed at Osama bin Laden, who was based in Sudan in the 1990s before moving back to Afghanistan.

It is unclear whether the commissions would have the power to compel former policymakers to give testimony. Sudan in 1989, when the first President Bush was in office. By 1991, Qosi had fought in Afghanistan and was an accountant in al Qaeda's office in Peshawar, Pakistan.

In addition to the American political leaders, Shaffer also wants to question Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantánamo Bay's detention camp and interrogation center.

Miller is now in Iraq, in charge of all U.S. detention operations, notably the Abu Ghraib prison, once a torture center during Saddam Hussein's reign and most recently the target of several investigations of abuse against Iraqi prisoners by members of the American military.

Shaffer has traveled to Sudan to meet her client's extended family and has served as Qosi's on-again, off-again Pentagon-paid defense lawyer. The Air Force briefly named her a military judge, paralyzing her Guantánamo work.

As a result, her defense strategy is just emerging in the case. Like Hicks' and Hamdan's attorneys, she is challenging the overall legitimacy of the Bush administration's Military Commissions, which reach back to World War I and II era law.

It is unclear whether the commissions would have the power to compel former policymakers to give testimony.

OTHER EFFORTS

Other defense lawyers have focused their efforts on trying to gain permission to question other alleged terrorists in U.S. custody, not political figures.

"This isn't, obviously, a regular witness. Gen. Miller is more straightforward, " said Navy Lt. Susan McGarvey, a legal expert and spokeswoman for the Pentagon's trial process.

First, she said, the panel of military colonels would decide whether Shaffer's request is relevant to her client's case. If they approve her request, it is unclear whether executive privileges would apply.

Shaffer could not be reached for comment on Friday.

In this week's filing, she notified the commission that she would challenge Qosi's conspiracy charge on at least a dozen grounds, including that the conspiracy allegation "is not a legitimate law of war violation."

Instead, she notified the court that she planned to seek a U.S. military court martial for Qosi, which would rely on the American Uniform Code of Military Justice rather than the commission, designed by presidential decree after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

THE MILITARY COMMISSIONS AT GUANTANAMO BAY

WHAT'S NEXT

* Four captives already charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes have pretrial hearings scheduled for the week of Nov. 1. They are Ali Hamza al Bahlul, 36, of Yemen; Salim Ahmed Hamdan, 34, of Yemen; David Hicks, 29, of Australia, and Ibrahim al Qosi, 44, of Sudan.

* A Bush administration appointee must rule on Bahlul's request to act as his own attorney.

* At the same time, Hamdan's defense attorney has filed suit in federal court, challenging the Pentagon's process for holding the trials.

* The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Robert Swann, has promised that additional al Qaeda suspects will be charged this month or next.




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