Yemeni Detainee Asks to Represent Self, Admits to Being al Qaeda
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Aug. 26, 2004 A Yemeni man accused of crafting terrorist propaganda appeared before a military commission here today and asked to represent himself.
Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul also admitted in court that he is a member of al Qaeda.
Presiding officer Army Col. Peter Brownback said that under current commission orders, detainees must be appointed military defense counsel. He then recessed the court until a higher authority could rule on the matter.
During one particularly dramatic exchange, Bahlul told the presiding officer he is a member of al Qaeda. "People of the entire globe should know I testify that I am from al Qaeda, and the relationship between me and Sept. 11 "
At that exact moment, Brownback interrupted Bahlul to remind the panel Bahlul is not under oath and his statements here today did not constitute evidence against him. The prosecuting attorney objected that he disagreed with that interpretation, and Brownback invited him to prepare a motion arguing his point. He then told Bahlul to continue, but Bahlul took up another subject.
The detainee did not rise when the panel officers entered the room and conspicuously remained seated while the panel was being sworn in. He indicated he "would prefer" to have an interpreter present, though at times he appeared to understand the English being spoken around him. Every response he gave was in Arabic and interpreted for the court.
Two military defense attorneys have been appointed to represent Bahlul, and these officers were sitting at the defense table when Bahlul entered the courtroom. He ignored them as he went to his seat and did not acknowledge them throughout the morning's proceedings.
When Brownback asked if Bahlul had any questions concerning his representation, he asked through the interpreter, "Am I allowed to represent myself?"
Brownback told him that was not allowed under military commission rules. The two then got into a lengthy exchange during which Bahlul said he was a member of al Qaeda and would not participate in the court unless he could represent himself or be represented by a Yemeni attorney. Commission rules also specify that civilian attorneys hired by detainees must be American citizens.
Brownback clearly appeared to be trying to find a solution. He explained to Bahlul the benefits of accepting the military representation. Still, Bahlul insisted he would not participate or even attend the proceedings without being forced if the American attorneys were representing him.
Brownback directed the two detailed defense attorneys to prepare friend-of-the- court briefs to argue for a rule change regarding defendants representing themselves and being represented by non-American attorneys. The briefs were to be prepared in this manner specifically so it would not appear as if the two officers were working on behalf of Bahlul, Brownback explained.
Bahlul entered the courtroom dressed in a gray short-sleeved, collared shirt that appeared several sizes too large, khaki pants that were rolled up above the ankle, white socks, and black canvas loafers.
His head was shaved, and he was clean-shaven but with white cream visible on his jaw line. A court spokesman later explained that al Bahlul had voluntarily shaved his beard this morning and then had some skin irritation. Military police officers put cream on the irritation.