Defiance, shackles in Afghan's first war court appearance

This sign marks the Pentagon's new pre-fabricated high-tech court complex at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, called Camp Justice comprised of temporary structures.
This sign marks the Pentagon's new pre-fabricated high-tech court complex at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, called Camp Justice comprised of temporary structures.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- U.S. guards carried a war-on-terror detainee out of his prison camp cell and led him into his arraignment in leg shackles Wednesday, a war court first.

Mohammed Jawad, in his 20s, spent his two-hour military commission session resisting his looming trial. For a chunk of it, the young man with a wisp of a mustache flopped his head on the defense table, stubbornly refusing to listen through headphones with Pasto translations.

''I'm innocent. I want justice and fairness,'' said Jawad, in his first appearance on an attempted murder charge.

He allegedly threw a grenade into a van carrying two U.S. soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2002, wounding both and maiming one.

Conviction could carry life in prison.

The hearing offered another scene of chaos and uncertainty in the Pentagon's first U.S. military war crimes trials since World War II.

First, the Afghan detainee refused to leave his Camp Delta cell and was carried out by guards, said his lawyer, Army Reserves Col. J. Michael Sawyers. Then, Jawad appeared in the bright-orange uniform of an uncooperative captive, shackles at his ankles above his slip-on prison camp sneakers.

In four years, no captive, not even alleged al Qaeda murderer Omar Khadr, 21, of Canada, had been shackled inside the tribunal chamber.


Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, his judge, said he ordered the shackles left on when the wrist restraints were removed because Jawad had not cooperated by coming to court.

With three Navy guards behind him, Jawad did not make a move from his leather courtroom chair -- but didn't accept his Pentagon appointed attorney, either.

He interrupted the judge frequently. He claimed unspecified torture in U.S. custody, then said he shouldn't face trial because he was a child, captured at age 16, fleeing a crowded Kabul bazaar after the grenade was thrown.

Then his military lawyer, Sawyers, asked to be excused from the trial because his reserve duty tour was ending, leaving the judge to stop the 120-day clock toward full-blown trial.

Sawyers said the Afghan was born in exile, in a Pakistan refugee camp, orphaned at age 2 and had long complained of headaches.

''This was a boy who at best had a seventh-grade religious education,'' he said. ``The Western concepts of justice and court are just completely foreign to him.''


It is now up to the Chief Pentagon Defense Counsel, Army Reserves Col. Steve David, to find another uniformed military defense attorney, or judge advocate general.

He is already struggling to find a dozen death-penalty certified JAGs to defend six detainees accused of a complex Sept. 11 conspiracy, who could face execution if convicted. They include reputed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who has yet to get a defense lawyer despite a Feb. 11 prosecution announcement.

Further complicating the defense caseload, the Pentagon moved forward with its foot-soldier prosecutions on Wednesday by publishing charges against another alleged Afghan war criminal -- Mohammed Kamin, in his 30s.

Like Jawad, the other Afghan whose charges were announced Wednesday is also accused of fighting the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Kamin allegedly joined al Qaeda in January 2003 and was captured four months later, after seting explosives and missiles near American bases.