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READY FOR THE WORLD Last week’s military commission proceedings gave the world its first humanizing glimpse of the four men selected to stand trial before the tribunals on war crimes charges. The defendants, each of whom is being held in solitary confinement, appeared in civilian clothing and were not shackled or handcuffed during the hearings. • Yemeni Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who is accused of conspiracy to commit war crimes and has admitted to working as a driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan did not enter a formal plea during his Aug. 24 hearing. He wore a long, white gown, brown sandals, and a black-and-white checked blazer. Hamdan addressed the court only when required, but seemed at ease in the company of his translator and his defense lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift. The government alleges that Hamdan first met bin Laden in 1996 and that he delivered weapons and ammunition from the Taliban to al Qaeda. In a federal habeas corpus claim brought by Swift that is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, court documents describe Hamdan’s mental condition as “deteriorating.” A psychiatrist working with Hamdan’s attorneys says the detainee’s mood is characterized by frustration, rage, loneliness, despair, depression, and anxiety. • Australian David Hicks — accused of training with al Qaeda and fighting against coalition forces in Afghanistan — pleaded not guilty Aug. 25 to charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes, murder by an unprivileged belligerent, and aiding the enemy. His trial is set to begin Jan. 10, 2005. Hicks wore a charcoal suit and displayed little emotion during the proceeding. Before the morning session, he met briefly with his father, Terry Hicks, for the first time in five years. “David has been an adventurer all his life. He always wanted to see over the next fence, and the older he got, the higher the fence got,” Terry Hicks said on the eve of his son’s hearing. According to prosecutors, Hicks trained at multiple al Qaeda camps and met bin Laden personally on several occasions. Hicks was captured in December 2001 near Baghlan, Afghanistan. • Yemeni Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, an alleged al Qaeda propagandist and bodyguard for bin Laden, told the commission panel on Aug. 26 that he is a member of al Qaeda. Bahlul remained in his seat each time the commission entered and exited the courtroom and spoke with controlled passion as he demanded the right to defend himself against charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes. In his native Arabic, Bahlul proclaimed, “I’d like the judge to understand . . . and the members of the panel, and the prosecution, and the defense team, that until this point does not represent me, and the visitors and if it’s being viewed by media channels, the people watching as well, and all the people of the entire globe to know that . . . I am from al Qaeda.” According to prosecutors’ charges, Bahlul worked in the al Qaeda “media office” and created a video glorifying the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors. • Sudanese Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, an alleged al Qaeda accountant in his mid-40s, entered the courtroom Aug. 27 in a polo shirt, khaki pants, a black skull cap, and slip-on sneakers. Accused of serving as al Qaeda’s deputy chief financial officer and managing funds donated from nongovernmental and charitable organizations, al Qosi fingered his gray-streaked beard as he read a translation of the charges against him. He looked baffled as his defense lawyer, Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer, addressed the court to request additional time to prepare. Shaffer had sought to withdraw from the case in late July after taking a new post as deputy chief trial judge for the Air Force. Less than 48 hours before al Qosi’s hearing, the Office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General informed Shaffer that she would stay on as al Qosi’s defense lawyer until completion of the case. “I am withdrawing my request to withdraw my representation of Mr. al Qosi,” Shaffer said. She agreed to a tentative trial date of Dec. 7 in the case. SWIFT’S SURPRISE Of the military defense lawyers assigned to the commissions, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift is considered a bit of a showboat. True to form, Swift engineered a dramatic twist at the end of the initial hearing for his client, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. During voir dire, in which lawyers were permitted to question the qualifications of the commissioners, Swift pushed presiding officer Army Col. Peter Brownback III to recall whether he had expressed an opinion during a July 15 meeting about whether military detainees had a right to a speedy trial. “Did you mention speedy trial at all?” Swift asked. Brownback, a retired military judge, answered that he may have mentioned the topic during the meeting, but that he could not recall expressing any opinion. Swift moved on with his questioning, but stated that Brownback had indeed earlier claimed that the detainees had no such right to a speedy trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and said he would seek Brownback’s exclusion. In the late afternoon, as the lengthy hearing drew to a close, Swift suddenly asked to reopen Brownback’s voir dire. He announced that the July 15 session had been recorded and that he wished to introduce the audiotape into the record. For much of last week’s proceedings Brownback ran the court with a folksy swagger, at times displaying visible impatience with defense counsel. When giving instructions, he would routinely address the commission panel as “y’all.” But at the mention of the tape, Brownback’s bluster disappeared. He buried his face in his hands and sat silently for more than two minutes. Finally, he responded. “Although the tape was made without my knowledge, I do give you permission to send it to the appointing authority,” he said. Defense lawyers present at the July 15 meeting insist the tape recorder was set in the center of the table and was acknowledged by Brownback. LOST IN TRANSLATION Yemeni defendant Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul was clearly reaching the climax of his statement to the commission when his articulate speech suddenly became muddled. “It’s well known in all laws civil or local that the decision is the evidence, especially if that decision is under no pressure,” Bahlul said through a court translator. He added, “I testify that the American government is under no pressure. I am from al Qaeda.” According to several Arabic speakers in the courtroom, the lapse lay not with Bahlul, but with the translator. One experienced Arabic linguist, a translator on the defense team for another military commission defendant, said Bahlul actually referred to “secular and Islamic law” when he stated “the confession is the evidence, especially if that confession is made under no pressure.” There were other striking errors as well. For instance, Bahlul told the commission that he knew attorneys practicing in Yemen that he would like to have represent him. The translator said, “I have some idea about practicing law in Yemen.” Observers in the courtroom on behalf of human rights and civil liberties organizations called the translation “grossly incompetent” and “nonsensical.” “The translation completely distorted the meaning of what the defendant was trying to say,” said Sam Zia-Zarifi, an observer from Human Rights Watch. Following Bahlul’s hearing, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, legal adviser to the appointing authority, said that the translation problems had not been brought to his attention but would be addressed. “I can tell you that each one of the accused has a linguist with him who is privileged to object immediately whenever they find problems with translation,” Hemingway said.

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