The Miami Herald

Terror suspect tells court he was tortured

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- An Ethiopian terrorist suspect who claims the United States outsourced his interrogation to torture in Morocco made a dramatic debut Thursday at his war-crimes trial, in a traditional Muslim tunic dyed bright orange like this offshore detention center's trademark jumpsuit.

And that was only the beginning. Within hours, the U.S. Air Force officer assigned to defend him invoked her Fifth Amendment rights -- three times -- after declaring the Pentagon had created for her an ethical dilemma.

Air Force Maj. Yvonne Bradley became the first person to plead the Fifth in the short history of President Bush's disputed Military Commissions, now under review at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, her 27-year-old client challenged every portion of the proceedings, starting with what the government says is his name -- Binyan Ahmed Muhammad.

RETRACTS CONFESSION

''I'm innocent and I'm not supposed to be here,'' he said.

Muhammad is accused of conspiracy as a member of al Qaeda who allegedly got explosives training and discussed dirty bombs with José Padilla in Pakistan. The Bush administration has ruled against charging Padilla, a one-time Broward County resident now in federal custody in South Florida, with similar charges.

In a grisly Supreme Court brief, his civilian defense attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, claimed that Muhammad confessed to anything he thought his captors wanted to hear -- after the United States sent him to Morocco, where he asserted interrogators sliced his genitals with a scalpel.

Muhammad, who lived in London for seven years after fleeing his country, says he never joined al Qaeda and was in Pakistan on a religious journey to shake a drug habit before he was outsourced for interrogation under a CIA policy called ``rendition.''

Muhammad dominated the session, declaring the rules unfair -- and pointedly accusing the presiding officer, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, of perpetrating an American legal justice fraud on the world.

'If you were arrested somewhere in Arabia and Osama bin Laden said, `I'm going to force you to have a military lawyer and give you some bearded, turbaned person,' I don't think you'd agree with it,'' he said.

He also drew a sharp admonition to avoid slurs and insults by taunting the Marine with this:

``I don't think your kids are going to be proud that there was a Ralph Kohlmann who sat in this commission. Just as I don't think Hitler's kids were proud that their father started this s- - -.''

Mostly, though, Kohlmann displayed a remarkable patience as he tried to press Bradley and Stafford Smith to take the lead in defending the man who asked to speak for himself.

Bradley, 43, was mobilized

from private practice in Philadelphia; she and Stafford Smith told Kohlmann they could not go forward because of a Pennsylvania Bar opinion: It asserted that, by having a Pentagon defense team work in the same office, U.S. military attorneys had overlapping responsibilities toward captives who had allegedly implicated each other.

At one point, she refused to participate -- and sat silently alongside the Ethiopian captive, a trim black man with shaved head covered by a skullcap and fuzzy beard and mustache.

''Major Bradley, you need to stand up and go to the lectern,'' the colonel told her.

She rose, took a deep breath and declared to the presiding officer: ``With all due respect, I'm exercising my Fifth Amendment rights.''

Faced with a defense deadlock, Kohlmann then raced through an afternoon of issues that in other commissions has been contested both in hundreds of pages of briefs and several days of sticky oral arguments.

He validated himself as presiding officer, refused to hear challenges raising ethics issues, and offered Bradley his opinion as a lawyer and a military officer that she was obliged to participate.

Then he had a Navy lieutenant in the role of a prosecutor read the charges aloud. Muhammad and his team refused to respond. So the colonel entered a not-guilty plea for them.

''We're not just going to be stuck in Never-Never Land,'' the veteran Marine judge said.

BREAKS FOR PRAYER

Despite Kohlmann's repeated refusal to hear arguments about ethical and legal issues facing the commission, he broke twice to give the captive time to pray.

He then invited the defense team to follow up with briefs that might revisit the issues he ruled on unilaterally: including the ethical issue, attorney-client privileges and whether Bradley had disqualified herself from helping her assigned client by risking a contempt citation. The colonel told defense lawyers to file their papers in a month, and be back at Guantánamo on June 5.




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