Military Commissions Proceedings to Resume This Week at Guantanamo Bay
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
U.S. NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Jan. 9, 2006 Military commissions proceedings resume this week as officials here hold preliminary hearings in the cases of two enemy combatants held here since 2002.
Proceedings will resume in the case of Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul, a Yemeni man accused of crafting terrorist propaganda, and begin for Canadian teen Omar Ahmed Khadr, who officials say killed a U.S. serviceman while fighting for al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Military commissions proceedings began against Bahlul in August 2004 but were halted by a federal district judge's ruling in November 2004. An appeals court decision in July 2005 overturned that ruling, clearing the way for this week's resumption.
Military documents summing up the charges against Bahlul allege that Osama bin Laden commissioned him to make a propaganda video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen and to collect news feeds showing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. In his first appearance before the military commission, in August 2004, Bahlul admitted being a member of al Qaeda and asked to represent himself or to be represented by a Yemeni.
"People of the entire globe should know I testify that I am from al Qaeda," Bahlul said in court in 2004.
In July 2005, John D. Altenburg Jr., appointing authority for the Defense Department's Office of Military Commissions, ruled that Bahlul may not represent himself. Under military commissions rules, detailed military defense counsel must represent all defendants. Further, private defense attorneys are required to be U.S. citizens and possess a secret security clearance. Detainees are also allowed to have foreign legal consultants.
A hearing scheduled for Jan. 11 is intended to further examine the issue of Bahlul's defense team, to allow the presiding officer to set a trial schedule and possibly to afford defense and prosecution attorneys the opportunity to challenge the suitability of the presiding officer, Army Col. Peter E. Brownback III. Legal officials describe this process as similar to attorneys in a civilian court challenging the impartiality of members of the jury.
The second defendant, Khadr, was born in Canada in 1986 to a family of terrorists, according to U.S. military documents. His father, Ahmed Khadr, is said to have been a close associate of bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda members, who ran a charity supposedly for the support of Afghan orphans. In reality, U.S. officials said, the group, "Health and Education Project International Canada," was channeling funds to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
Khadr is said to have trained extensively in terrorist camps in Afghanistan and became an explosives expert specializing in remotely detonated improvised explosive devices, according to the charges against him. Attempted murder charges are based on the allegation that he emplaced improvised explosive devices on routes frequented by U.S. military convoys.
A murder charge stems from July 27, 2002, the date of his capture by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. According to U.S. military documents, U.S. forces surrounded a compound that housed Khadr and other al Qaeda members. A firefight ensued, killing Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer and two Afghan military members.
Several other U.S. military members were injured. Officials allege Khadr threw the grenade that killed Speer. Khadr was 15 at the time.
Air Force Maj. Jane Boomer, a spokeswoman for the Office of Military Commissions, said Khadr would be tried as an adult without consideration of his age at the time of his alleged crimes.
Boomer said both men could be sentenced to up to life in prison if they are found guilty of their crimes.
More than 30 media representatives arrived at this island base this week to cover the legal proceedings. Up to eight reporters are allowed to observe hearings in the courtroom. All others observe proceedings from a nearby media center via closed-circuit television.
Army Maj. Jeff Weir, deputy public affairs officer for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said facilitating media coverage is an important part of the process. "If you're not as open as you can be it's going to look like you're trying to hide things," he said today.
To date, nine men have been charged with war crimes under the military commissions process. Issues in one of those cases, that of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, are pending U.S. Supreme Court review. A lower court also halted proceedings in the case of David Hicks, the so-called "Australian Taliban," until the Supreme Court rules in the Hamdan case.