BOISE, Idaho -- Boise lawyer David Nevin said Friday that a Guantánamo military court's decision to let the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks represent himself threatens a fundamental constitutional principle -- the right to competent counsel.
"This is not a fair proceeding," Nevin said. "This is a show trial and it's a secret trial. The United States of America is not going to look good at the end of this."
Nevin said the Bush Administration is rushing to complete the process before a new president takes office in January, knowing that both major party presumptive nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama, have been sharply critical of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
It appears the government will request that the tribunal --the first such U.S. proceeding since World War II-- begin the trial on Sept. 15, Nevin said.
He said that such an accelerated timeline in a complex case confirms criticism that President Bush, who controls such tribunals, seeks a conviction at any cost, no matter how damaging to the country's reputation for fairness.
"I don't see how you can come to any other conclusion," he said, by telephone early Friday morning from Guantánamo, where a judge on Thursday ruled that Khalid Sheik Mohammed could represent himself.
The government says Mohammed, who was subject to waterboarding, has admitted planning the attacks. Thursday's arraignment was held in a sealed courtroom, with audio feeds available to the media. Twice during the proceeding, military censors cut off the sound.
Nevin and his partner, Scott McKay, volunteered to assist military lawyers in defending Mohammed. But they had just five hours in the two days before Thursday's arraignment to speak with him.
"In that period of time, we were utterly unable to develop a good, supportive relationship with our client," Nevin said. "As a result, he made a decision to represent himself."
In the hearing, Mohammed rejected the legitimacy of the process, asked to represent himself and to be martyred. He and four other detainees face the death penalty. All five asked to represent themselves, and Judge Ralph Kohlmann, a Marine colonel, ruled that Mohammed and two others could do so.
He's weighing the requests of two other detainees.
"In one of the most complex and wide-ranging cases in the history of this country, they have two days to made a decision about whether to be represented by lawyers," said Nevin, whose security clearance was not approved until six days before the hearing.
Mohammed has been detained for five years. He first met his military lawyer, Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, in April. The judge ordered Prince to remain as standby counsel should Mohammed change his mind. Nevin praised Prince and the other military defense lawyers. "These military lawyers are really extraordinary," he said. "They are top-flight lawyers and their hearts are really in the right place."
Nevin also said allowing the five detainees to talk to one another in the courtroom within earshot of prosecutors was a violation of their legal rights. The practice is ordinarily barred, Nevin said, because statements to one another and anything overheard could become admissible evidence.
News reports on Thursday said civilian lawyers would not be allowed to stand by, but Nevin said that's actually up in the air. "I have some indication we'll be allowed to participate, but it's not clear yet."
Nevin was to return to the U.S. Friday and said he's eager to get back to Boise. He spent the last 2 1/2 months trying a case in Detroit, which ended with an acquittal Monday as he was traveling to Guantánamo.
"I'd like to come home and see if my family recognizes me," he said.
Then, the defense team will consider their next step, which Nevin said could be influenced by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on detainee reights, which is expected by month's end.