GUANTANMO BAY, Cuba The final of four military commissions convened today in the case of U.S. vs. Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, a Sudanese citizen accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism and murder by an unprivileged belligerent, among other charges.
Military commissions have historically been used to try violations of the law of war, and today saw the fourth preliminary hearing before a military commission this week for defendants held at Guantanamo Bay.
Al-Qosi entered the courtroom and took his seat next to his translator and his detailed defense counsel Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Sharon Shaffer. Presiding Officer Colonel Peter Brownback and the rest of the panel members entered the courtroom shortly thereafter.
Brownback proceeded to swear the members of the panel as to their duties before the commission. He then addressed comments to al-Qosi asking him if he wished to be represented by Lt. Col Shaffer. Al-Qosi, speaking through a translator, replied that he did but suggested that she might want an additional counsel.
Shaffer was then asked about her involvement in al-Qosis case whereupon she gave a chronology from being detailed to the case in February of 2004 through her request to be taken off the case due to a reassignment as the deputy chief trial judge of the Air Force. Her list concluded with the announcement that she had been notified this week that her conflict had been resolved and that she would be able to continue as defense counsel while the new assignment would be held for her.
Brownback then asked if she was prepared to conduct voir dire. Voir dire is an opportunity afforded at the presiding officers discretion to both the prosecution and defense to determine whether a commission panel member is qualified to impartially try the case.
Shaffer said that she had not had an opportunity to prepare since she had been preparing to assume different duties for the past few weeks. Brownback then conferred with the defense and prosecution and set a date of October 4th for the voir dire and a preliminary hearing date of December 7th. As there was no more business the commission could conduct, he declared the commission in recess.
The recess in this case brought to a close a week that saw four preliminary hearings in cases for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay as enemy combatants in the war on terror. Two hearings this week resulted in trial dates being set with Brownback granting a continuance in a third and the fourth being interrupted when the detainee asked to represent himself. An additional 11 detainees have been deemed eligible for trial by military commission for violations of the law of war. Their cases are in development with charges expected in at least one case soon.