The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
July 16th, 2009 - Guantánamo War Court Faces Technological, Legal Challenges
By Carol Rosenberg
July 16, 2009
Guantanamo Bay Navy Base, Cuba - The Pentagon plunged forward Wednesday with pretrial hearings against eight detainees in its beleaguered war court system with challenges to both the ongoing terror prosecutions and their remote state-of-the-art technology.
“Hopefully, this is going to get better,” Navy Cmdr. Dirk Padgett said as court staff complained they couldn't hear him introduce himself as a prosecutor in the case of Ibrahim Qosi inside the $12 million expeditionary legal compound.
Qosi, 49, allegedly served as Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and sometime driver, as well as on an al Qaeda mortar crew in Afghanistan. Military prosecutors sought to delay the case while the Obama administration reviews how to proceed.
The Sudanese captive's military lawyers struck a contrarian's note by arguing for a speedy trial in the case, invoking a “justice-delayed, justice-denied” argument on the grounds Qosi was among the first men taken to the prison camps when they opened in January 2002. Obama has ordered the prison camps emptied by Jan. 22.
“He was one of the guys who was kept in the dog cages. Talk about oppressive confinement,” argued Navy Lt. Cmdr. Travis Owens, Qosi's Pentagon-paid defense lawyer.
The hearings were expected to continue later Wednesday in the case of Canadian captive Omar Khadr, who fired all of his U.S. military lawyers but one after they squabbled over defense strategy.
On Thursday, five men accused as 9/11 co-conspirators will appear in court on how to decide whether two of the men are sane enough to proceed to an eventual death penalty trial.
President Barack Obama has frozen the commissions themselves to give his lawyers time to decide in what venue, if anywhere, to put select Guantánamo detainees on trial. He has said he prefers civilian prosecutions.
The Pentagon's chief war crimes prosecutor, Navy Capt. John Murphy, told reporters on the eve of the hearings that prosecutors are moving forward incrementally on issues that don't change the status quo in cases, even as Obama attorneys adjust court rules to benefit the accused.
He also said the war crimes prosecutor was preparing “about 66 cases,” none approved by an Obama task force sorting through Guantánamo case files.
But mostly this week's session illustrated the uncertainty of the moment as Pentagon staff struggled over what should take place, if anything, at the crude compound called Camp Justice on an abandoned airstrip overlooking Guantánamo Bay.
The Pentagon brought in more than 160 lawyers, administrators, observers and reporters aboard a charter flight on Tuesday morning and then turned on the lights in the war court, which has been dark since Khadr fired his lawyers six weeks ago.
After landing, escorts forgot to have the families of Sept. 11 victims file off the aircraft last, a practice that has permitted military and civilian photographers to document their arrival.
A Pentagon escort then offered to put the nine parents and children of World Trade Center and Flight 77 victims back aboard the charter, and have them climb down the steps again. The media declined.
The idea was floated but not formally offered to the visiting media, said Pentagon spokesman Jeffrey Gordon, who added he would not have permitted the victims to be used in that manner, even had the journalists accepted the offer.
Later, two lawyers didn't make the hearings, testing the reach of Camp Justice's video-conferencing capabilities.
A third-trimester pregnant prosecutor, Navy Lt. Rachel Trest, offered the government's side for delay in the case of Afghan Mohammed Kamin, 30, by closed-circuit feed from suburban Washington.
But her argument was inaudible at the media center designed years ago to simultaneously broadcast both trials to journalists.
Soon after technicians repaired that problem, the transmission of a second trial broke because of an electrical overload. That feed was fixed in the media center, but then broke between Guantánamo and the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, causing the judge to order a recess.
A court tip sheet to media predicted that Kamin defense lawyer Rich Federico, also a Navy lieutenant, would ask for guidance on how much trial preparation could take place during the White House-mandated interregnum.
Instead, Federico urged dismissal by turning a senior Obama administration attorney's testimony before Congress against the case. Last week, he noted, Justice Department national security lawyer David Kris told a Senate committee that the current legal analysis was that a military commissions conviction over a charge of “providing material support for terror” would not be appeal-proof.
It is a crime in federal courts, and the only charge Kamin faces at the war court.
But Justice Department lawyers were at odds with Defense Department lawyers over whether to subject detainees to trial for that violation, which was legislated as a war crime in the 2006 Military Commissions Act.
Kamin allegedly got al Qaeda training after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden - and then deployed missiles and mines against coalition forces that never exploded. He was sent to Guantánamo as an enemy combatant in September 2004.
Kamin's judge, Air Force Col. Thomas Cumbie, did not rule on the spot and agreed with the defense lawyer that the rules of court were still evolving. “I'm not saying in any way that you ambushed me. Things change.”
At the simultaneous hearing for Qosi, Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, the judge, said she would rule in writing on the government lawyers' bid for delay and defense attorneys' bid for a speedy trial.
That hearing tested military commission technology, too, by having Qosi's Sudanese lawyer consultant, Ahmed el Mofti, monitor the session by video from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum.
Both Qosi and Kamin face maximum life prison sentences if convicted of their current charges by a military commission.
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