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Commission Hearing Ends in Continuance at Defense Request

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Aug. 27, 2004 – The fourth hearing this week for an enemy combatant charged with war crimes ended after an hour in a continuance on the basis that the defense attorney had not had opportunity to prepare.

Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer had suspended her activities in defense of Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi in July after she received orders to report to a new assignment as the Air Force's deputy chief trial judge.

Shaffer explained before the commission today that her acting as a defense attorney in this case and being certified as a trial judge would have been an unacceptable conflict of interest. The Air Force has since removed that conflict by temporarily assigning her to Qosi's defense full-time and delaying her certification as a trial judge.

She was notified of this decision at about 12:45 p.m. Aug. 25 and did not have time to prepare for Qosi's hearing today, she told presiding officer Army Col. Peter Brownback.

Under questioning by Brownback, Shaffer said she had been a trial judge from 2000 to 2003 and desired to return to that status. However, she said, her personal wishes regarding her next assignment would in no way hinder her representation of her client. "I will be able to mount a tornadic, zealous, defense of my client," said Shaffer, who noted she is from Kansas, during a news conference after the morning's hearing.

In today's hearing, Shaffer also raised concerns about resourcing the defense team. She said she has asked for and been denied a request for a deputy defense counsel.

Qosi is the fourth and final defendant to face a hearing before the military commission here this week. He is accused of being an accountant and paymaster for al Qaeda during the 1990s. The charge against him is conspiracy to commit the offenses of attacking civilians and civilian objects, murder, destruction of property and terrorism.

In light of potential problems with courtroom translations in earlier hearings this week, at the opening of the session today Brownback reminded the translators to only translate what is said in the courtroom. He said it is not their job to clarify or correct what has been said or to repeat a question.

"Even if you're certain someone misspoke, your obligation is to only translate the words spoken," he said.

He also asked people addressing the commission to speak clearly, loudly, and in short bursts and to give time for questions to be translated before answering.

Brownback set dates in October to next hear motions in the Qosi case and set a tentative trial date of Dec. 7, contingent on Shaffer being provided with the needed resources. If Shaffer is unable to proceed with trial on Dec. 7, Brownback set an alternate trial date of Feb. 8.

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