Sudanese terror suspect boycotts war court

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

In an emerging trend, a defiant Sudanese terror suspect on Thursday became the third war court defendant in a row to fire his lawyer and boycott his military trial.

''One day we will all stand together in front of the divine court, where Allah will judge, the only just one,'' Ibrahim al Qosi told his judge, refusing to offer a defense against al Qaeda conspiracy charges. ``I will boycott the procedures of this court, I will leave the field to you.''

This week's developments set the stage for a series of summertime in-absentia trials for at least three captives refusing to leave their prison camp cells for Camp Justice, where the military commissions are held.

So far, six men have been arraigned, and three have declared boycotts. All face a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

Eight more have been designated for trial, with the Pentagon saying that up to 80 could go before the special post 9/11 court set up to try alleged terrorists for war crimes.

Asked about it, the chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said he had ''no information'' on whether there was an orchestrated boycott campaign in the prison camps that today hold 280 alleged terrorists.

The goal is justice, he said, not ``speed for speed's sake.''

The Pentagon alleges that Qosi was Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard before his capture in Afghanistan in 2001; he had earlier been accused of managing al Qaeda's payroll but those allegations do not appear in his charge sheet.

Technically, Thursday's hearing was Qosi's arraignment, his first appearance. But no charges were read and no plea was entered.

Instead, the focus was on how to defend him at a trial he rejected. His judge, Air Force Col. Nancy Paul, spent a good chunk of the afternoon reading him his military commission rights from a script, which were translated into at-times flawed Arabic.

''I will repeat for the thousandth time: I do not want any attorney to represent me,'' he said, reciting back his options.

Not a military one. Not a civilian volunteer. Not one he could hire.

In the end, the judge ordered Navy Reserves Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier to represent him.

She said she would consult the California bar, where she is licensed, on the ethics of representing a detainee who had fired her.

Lachelier, a former Federal Public Defender, had been passing messages to Qosi through guards for weeks, and the prison staff reported that he didn't want to see her.

Their first face to face meeting was at the courthouse on Thursday afternoon, and the 47-year-old Sudanese man stuck his fingers in his ears and refused to listen to her.

Lachelier asked the judge to help her get permission to speak with him in his cell, something she said had been done in private life. The judge said that was contrary to prison camp procedures.

Qosi became the second war court defendant this week to declare the commissions a ''sham.'' On Wednesday, detainee Ahmed Darbi, accused of plotting terror attacks at sea in the Middle East, fired his Pentagon lawyer.

Qosi noted that British detainees once segregated here in the same pre-trial prison camp had long ago gone home, never tried -- at the insistence of the government.

He read from a hand-written chronology of the war court's woes, noted that the Supreme Court had once before struck down the trials as unconstitutional and accused the U.S. government of seeking to hand out politicized military justice.

''The only war crime that I committed, for which I am being tried today, and to which I confess, is my nationality,'' he said. ``I am a citizen of one of the Third World countries, as you classify it. My crime is that I am a Sudanese citizen.''

Pentagon proponents of the system argue the trials are fair and afford alleged terrorists extraordinary rights -- including a free-of-charge U.S. military lawyer -- while the nation is still fighting the global war on terror.

Qosi opened his statement to the court, reading from a piece of paper, by quoting from what he described as an al Jazeera commentary hailing ''Sheik Osama bin Laden'' -- for attacking the U.S. militarily, economically and spiritually.

Also Thursday, the proceedings were again fraught with translation problems.

''Sunflower seed'' in Arabic became ''peanut'' in English.''

Once, Qosi replied with a single Arabic word -- no -- when he was asked by the judge whether he wanted a lawyer.

The court translator came back with this: ``No I don't want anyone to represent me.''

Lachelier noted there were problems, particularly at a point when she had warned him against self-incrimination.

The judge swatted the concern aside.

''Even though there was some minor inconsistency in the translation, Mr. Qosi was clear in his rights,'' Paul said. She is the first woman military officer to serve as a judge at the military commissions; Lachelier is the first uniformed defense counsel in the current system although Qosi was previously assigned Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer.

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