Commissions Hearing Delayed By Detainee's Refusal of Defense
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 27, 2006 In his first military commission hearing here, an accused Saudi terrorist rejected his detailed military defense counsel today, saying he didn't want a defense at all and was happy to admit to his charges.
"I did not come here to defend myself," said Ghassan Abdullah Al Sharbi, who is accused of providing English translation for a terrorist training camp and receiving training on how to build and use hand-held remote detonation devices for explosives. "I came here to tell you that I did what I did and I'm willing to pay the price, no matter how many years you sentence me. Even if I spend hundreds of years in jail, that would be a matter of honor for me."
Sharbi, an electrical engineering graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University's campus in Prescott, Ariz., appeared in court wearing his tan detention uniform and spoke in fluent English throughout the hearing.
Sharbi said that he would not be violent or disruptive and would make his hearing easy for the commission. He rejected the term, "guilty," saying that he is proud of what he did.
The presiding officer, Navy Capt. Daniel O'Toole, asked Sharbi several times if he wanted to be represented by his detailed defense counsel or a civilian attorney. Sharbi repeatedly said he did not want representation, even after O'Toole explained to him that an attorney would have experience and knowledge of the commission rules and would have access to classified information and closed hearings that Sharbi would be shut out of.
Sharbi's detailed defense counsel, Navy Lt. William Kuebler, was detailed to the case in November, but Sharbi refused to meet with him until April 23. In the hearing today, Sharbi said that he cannot trust Kuebler and that Kuebler told him the military commissions process is illegitimate.
Sharbi said that he doesn't care if the commissions are illegitimate, because the U.S. government has done many illegitimate things.
"To me, it's the same circus, different clown," he said.
Under questioning from O'Toole, Sharbi said he understood that by representing himself, he could put his case at risk and that he faces a severe penalty in this case, including prolonged confinement.
"I advise you not to waste time with me on that point," Sharbi said to O'Toole's urge that he reconsider his refusal of defense. "It's my decision and I'm not going to change it, to be honest."
O'Toole initially ruled that even if Sharbi had the right to represent himself, he was not qualified, because he isn't familiar with the rules of the commission proceedings and he wouldn't have access to classified information or closed hearings. O'Toole also said that under Military Commission Order 1, detainees are required to be represented by detailed defense counsel at all times.
Today's proceedings were stopped from going forward, however, when Kuebler brought several ethical and legal issues to O'Toole's attention. Kuebler has an ethical opinion from his state bar in California saying it is unethical for him to proceed when Sharbi is refusing his services. He also has an opinion from a California ethical hotline, and a pending request at the Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General, he said.
Kuebler said that Sharbi's competency as his own defense counsel should not be a factor in deciding whether he has the right to represent himself. Sharbi did not indicate he was unwilling to follow the rules of the commission, Kuebler pointed out, but simply said that he wasn't familiar with the rules. Sharbi should have a right to review the rules before he decides whether he will follow them, he said.
Kuebler told O'Toole that he has a legal motion prepared concerning the issues of Sharbi's right to represent himself and the commission's authority to make Kuebler represent him despite his wishes.
After reviewing Kuebler's ethical opinions and requests during a one-hour recess, O'Toole ruled that Kuebler should file his motion, and the commission will reconvene the week of May 17 to litigate it. O'Toole said that the issues presented need to be resolved to ensure a full and fair trial.
Sharbi is alleged to have attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and to have provided English translation for another camp attendee's military training.
According to the charges against him, Sharbi traveled to a guest house in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, where he received training in how to build hand-held, remote detonation devices for explosives. Sharbi was allegedly captured at the guest house in March 2002 along with Sufyian Barhoumi and Jabran Said Bin Al Qahtani, both of whom faced commission hearings this week.