Glitches Mar Debut Of Guantanamo War Court




 
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Glitches Mar Debut Of Guantanamo War Court
 
May 8th, 2008  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Glitches Mar Debut Of Guantanamo War Court


Glitches Mar Debut Of Guantanamo War Court
Miami Herald
May 8, 2008
Pg. 1
Technical difficulties plagued the Pentagon's first hearing at its high-tech war court complex at Guantánamo.
By Carol Rosenberg
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- The Pentagon tested its new $12 million war court complex Wednesday with the arraignment of an alleged al Qaeda propagandist -- and the state-of-the-art facility was plagued by technical tribulations.
Audio was at times inaudible in the soundproofed observers gallery. The video feed froze in the media room, leaving the judge in freeze-frame for several moments, his mouth agape.
During the hearing inside the windowless, razor wire-ringed and eavesdropping-proof Expeditionary Legal Complex, which was rushed to be ready for the trials of six alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, the power also went out. That triggered alarm bells and sent guards scurrying to surround defendant Ali Hamza al Bahlul.
Throughout it all, Bahlul, 39, sat unmoving and unshackled in his tan prison camp uniform, stonily rejecting the authority of the Guantánamo war court. He said he was proud of his service to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden -- and said only Allah could judge him.
'Nothing will stop us'
''I'm telling you now I will never deny any actions I did alongside bin Laden fighting you and your allies the Jews,'' Bahlul told the judge, Army Col. Peter E. Brownback III. ``We will continue our jihad and nothing will stop us.''
Bahlul, who allegedly helped two 9/11 suicide bombers film their ''martyrdom videos,'' refused assistance from his Pentagon appointed defense lawyer. He held up an Arabic sign declaring ''boycott'' -- hand fashioned at an earlier war crimes court hearing, before the U.S. Supreme Court upended the process.
''The system was thoroughly tested before today,'' said an exasperated Air Force Capt. Andre Kok, a Pentagon spokesman for the first U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War II.
Kok watched in silence as the judge and detainee appeared to pantomime the first portion of the nearly four-hour hearing -- exchanging words and documents while technicians swapped out hard drives.
It all took place in the first use of the Pentagon's showcase Expeditionary Legal Complex, where the soundproofed spectators' gallery is equipped with a mute button to stop war-on-terrorism detainees from spilling national security secrets.
Were reputed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed on trial, that might be necessary. The military has him isolated from other detainees so he won't disclose his treatment in the custody of the CIA, which has already confirmed it waterboarded him.
But Bahlul was never held by the CIA, nor has the military imposed special maximum-security procedures on his detention.
The session was also the first since the former war crimes prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris Davis testified in the original, older courtroom April 28 that the Pentagon rushed the terror trials to get them going before President Bush leaves office.
By afternoon, the military had retreated to its old courtroom with little gadgetry -- atop a hill overlooking the new complex, dubbed Camp Justice.
All morning, beleaguered technical staff struggled to keep the audio, visual and electrical compound functioning amid a one-hour Arabic monologue by Bahlul -- who prosecutors say served as bin Laden's ``personal secretary.''
He also allegedly was a bin Laden bodyguard and made a propaganda video about the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole destroyer off the coast of Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 American sailors.
And, according to an old Pentagon charge sheet, he experienced communications challenges of his own: Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he failed to rig up a satellite TV in rugged mountainous Afghanistan for his boss to watch news reports.
Bahlul has been among the most steadfast of war court rejectionists, declaring his plan to boycott the proceedings for years -- and systematically firing each of a succession of U.S. uniformed military attorneys assigned to help defend him.
Wednesday, he said that even though the United States toppled Islamic law by invading Afghanistan, Allah is the supreme judge.
``He can sink the whole continent, the United States, if he wants.''
Bahlul is accused of three war crimes including conspiracy and providing material support for terror. Conviction carries a maximum life sentence.
Audio-visual issues
Problems persisted throughout the session. Arabic to English translation was frequently inaudible to spectators. To overcome audio-visual problems, the colonel wearing the black robes of a judge stepped down from his bench to sit alongside the defense table.
As the charges were being read, the power cut to the windowless courtroom, triggering a blackout -- and alarms. Guards scrambled to surround the detainee, still unshackled in his seat and just feet from the judge, who ordered the proceedings to go on.
Bahlul stonily rejected the process. He alternately said he would boycott the proceedings and that he wanted to serve as his own defense counsel, a right granted by Congress in the 2006 Military Commissions Act.
He flatly refused his Pentagon appointed attorney, saying he would rather represent himself at trial, silently.
The judge, however, assigned Air Force Reserves Maj. David Frakt as standby counsel -- a status that will allow Frakt to prepare a defense for Bahlul, should the judge decide he is incompetent or uncooperative.
Frakt is a California law professor, and, like the facility, made his war court debut Wednesday.
''I think they should hire Mr. al Bahlul to do a sound-check next time,'' he quipped after the session. ``Given the amount of money they spent on this facility, I would've thought they'd have the kinks worked out.''
 


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