Muhammad Gitmo Proceedings Begin Despite Defense Boycott
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 7, 2006 The military commissions proceedings for suspected terrorist Binyam Ahmed Muhammad began dramatically here yesterday, with the defense team essentially boycotting the proceedings and Muhammad requesting to represent himself.
At the start of the proceeding, Muhammad was joined at the defense table only by his detailed defense counsel, Air Force Maj. Yvonne Bradley. Muhammad's two civilian attorneys, Clive Stafford Smith and Joseph Margulies, were in the commissions room but did not sit at the table. Bradley refused to give a reason the civilian attorneys were not at the table and, in fact, declared herself unqualified to represent Muhammad, because of a conflict of interest.
Bradley refused to speak on Muhammad's behalf, so Muhammad spoke for himself, and used the opportunity to decry the military commissions process as a whole. Muhammad also said he is not the person who is supposed to be charged in this case, because since he's been in custody, the U.S. has spelled his name wrong, saying instead the spelling is Mohamed.
Muhammad, an Ethiopian man accused of conspiring to build and use an improvised "dirty" bomb with Jose Padilla, a terror suspect facing criminal charges in Miami, asserted he did not want Bradley, or any American, to represent him in this case.
"I don't believe her being an American and a soldier - a sworn enemy of mine - will defend me," Muhammad said of Bradley. "I have a problem with trusting Americans, because I've been in custody of Americans for four years."
Muhammad said his civilian lawyers were his advisers, but he did not want them to represent him in the commissions proceedings. He said that he had authorized the two civilians to make motions on his behalf, but not to speak at the proceedings.
"I wish no representation by anyone in this case, because they have no idea what the case is," he said. "I have the answers here, not them."
The presiding officer, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, told Muhammad that, per commissions law, he could not represent himself, and that if his civilian attorneys were to file motions on his behalf, they were also required to sit at the defense table with him at all proceedings. Kohlmann then granted a brief recess so Muhammad could discuss the issue of his representation with his lawyers.
After the recess, Bradley told Kohlmann that she does not understand commissions law and does not understand why Muhammad cannot represent himself and have civilian advisers who don't speak during proceedings. Kohlmann said that regardless of Bradley's level of understanding, commissions law governs the military commissions, and she is required to represent Muhammad unless he chooses another detailed defense counsel.
The presiding judge also reprimanded Bradley for interrupting him, and for having a grin on her face while a very important matter was discussed. "You need to take better charge of your facial expressions when you're dealing with this court," Kohlmann said to her.
When asked again if he desired an added defense counsel, Muhammad went into a speech about the illegitimacy of military commissions. He even made a sign that read "conn mission" and held it up for the entire room to see.
"This is not a commission, it's a con mission," he said. "It's a mission to con the world."
After a lengthy exchange with Kohlmann, Muhammad was convinced to let the two civilian lawyers represent him. Smith and Margulies came to the table with Muhammad, but they refused to participate fully or to acknowledge themselves as his counsel, citing the conflict of interest Bradley had earlier referred to.
Kohlmann tried to push the proceedings forward, despite the defense's unwillingness to cooperate. When Kohlmann asked Muhammad for his plea regarding the charges against him, Muhammad pushed his microphone aside and the defense counsel refused to answer. Kohlmann defaulted the plea to not guilty.
After a long recess, Kohlmann directed the defense counsel to file a number of motions regarding the perceived conflict of interest. Kohlmann told each defense attorney to file separate motions either withdrawing from the case or giving reasons they should continue to represent Muhammad. If the defense attorneys believe the conflict can be solved by changing rules or regulations, Kohlmann said they should file a motion stating how it can be fixed, including specific details.
In addition to these motions, Kohlmann said each defense attorney must file a brief stating what basis, if any, he or she has for continuing to represent Muhammad. This brief is required because Kohlmann is the deciding factor on whether there is a conflict, so if he denies the conflict and moves forward, there could be another boycott, he said.
"We're not just going to be stuck in 'Never-Never Land,'" Kohlmann said.
The defense's briefs are due to the presiding officer by May 4, and the commission will argue those motions in the June 5 trial term.