- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — A Yemeni accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden went before a U.S. military tribunal yesterday and said he would boycott his war-crimes trial because he did not recognize the tribunal’s authority.

Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, who has acknowledged that he is “from al Qaeda,” is one of nine Guantanamo prisoners charged with crimes. Most of the 500 or so detainees have been held without charges for years in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The hearing began on the fourth anniversary of the camp’s opening.

Al Bahlul is accused of conspiring to commit war crimes by acting as a bin Laden bodyguard and making recruiting videos for al Qaeda.

“There’s going to be a tribunal of God on the day of judgment,” al Bahlul told the court in Arabic. “Do what you have to do and rule however you have to rule. … God will rule based on justice.”

Al Bahlul ended his participation in the proceedings with one word in English: “boycott.” Presiding officer Army Col. Peter Brownback set the suspect’s trial tentatively for May 15.

A separate tribunal of U.S. military officers was set to begin in the murder case against Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, 19. He is accused of killing an Army medic with a grenade during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan when he was 15.

The Pentagon is proceeding with the two cases even though U.S. courts have halted the trials of other Guantanamo prisoners pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether President Bush had authority to establish the tribunals. The high court will hear arguments in the case in March.

Al Bahlul, who has a short beard and mustache and wore khaki pants and a dark blue shirt, was not shackled or handcuffed in the courtroom.

Earlier in the hearing, he read a list of nine reasons why he refused to be represented by a military lawyer or to participate further, including the treatment of Palestinians by U.S. ally Israel — “your allies, the Jews,” he said — and because his native country had been accused in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

Al Bahlul said Guantanamo prisoners had been tortured and that the Britons who had been held there were not subject to military tribunals. He objected to the potential use of secret evidence and to the U.S. characterization of the prisoners as illegal belligerents.

“We are prisoners of war and legal combatants based on our religion and our religious law,” he said. “We do not care about anything that you call us.”

Col. Brownback rejected al Bahlul’s request to represent himself, and the prisoner refused to meet with Army Reserve Maj. Tom Fleener, the lawyer appointed by the military to defend him.

Smiling and thanking Col. Brownback, al Bahlul held up a sheet of paper scrawled with the word “boycott” in English and Arabic. He removed the earphones that had enabled him to listen to an Arabic translation of the proceedings and refused to enter a plea or to stand when the charges were read.

Al Bahlul and Khadr face life in prison if convicted by the tribunals, which were authorized by Mr. Bush to try foreign terrorism suspects after the September 11 attacks.

Maj. Fleener has called the tribunals a sham and said he thinks it is an ethical violation for him to represent a prisoner who has rejected his services. Col. Brownback ordered him to defend al Bahlul anyway.

The United States has faced criticism at home and abroad for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo since the first group arrived from Afghanistan, shackled and wearing black-out goggles and surgical masks, on Jan. 11, 2002.

Human rights groups have criticized rules allowing the use of evidence that may have been obtained through torture.

Chief prosecutor Col. Moe Davis said the tribunal system was designed to provide a fair trial while addressing an enemy whose actions had not been anticipated under existing law.

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