Alleged bomb maker next to go before military commissions in Guantanamo Bay

Friday, August 27th 2004, 8:41 am
By: News On 6

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) _ The United States says Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi was an accountant and paymaster for al-Qaida and a longtime associate of Osama bin Laden, the terror network's chief.

But al Qosi, 44, who is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, including attacking civilians, murder, destruction of property and terrorism, might not get to make a plea at his arraignment Friday _ his lawyer is quitting and another has not been appointed.

Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer, al Qosi's lawyer, has asked to withdraw from the case after accepting a job as a deputy chief trial judge for the Air Force. So far, no other representation has been found for the Sudanese prisoner, an alleged bomb maker.

The snag is the latest in the proceedings, already under heavy criticism by defense attorneys and observers who have questioned the impartiality of panel members and accuracy of the translations.

Another issue has been whether the four charged prisoners should be tried at all in the commissions, before their status as ``enemy combatants'' is decided. The classification gives them fewer legal protections.

In a dramatic turn Thursday, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul, 36, of Yemen, rejected his appointed advocates and argued to represent himself as he admitted to being a member of al-Qaida.

Although the remark was ordered to be disregarded, it is still unclear whether it could be used against him in a trial. Al Bahlul's request to represent himself is to be considered by John D. Altenburg Jr., a retired Army general in charge of the proceedings who is in Washington, D.C.

Inaccurate translations also muddled his preliminary hearing _ the first step in military commissions, or trials. Several of al Bahlul's words were rendered incorrectly, said Arabic-speaking journalists in attendance and a translator for another charged Guantanamo prisoner.

One translator said al Bahlul had said he had legal knowledge obtained in Yemen. His linguist, however, said he instead told the panel he knew people in Yemen who did.

Another example was when al Bahlul said, according to the official translator, that ``under civilian or local law that a decision was evidence.'' Another translator, Fuad Yahya, claimed al Bahlul said that ``under civilian or religious law a confession was evidence.'' Yahya was to work with al Qosi on Friday.

U.S. charges allege al Qosi traveled with bin Laden, served as a driver and quartermaster, and worked as an accountant and treasurer for a business intended to provide income and cover for al-Qaida terror operations. He allegedly was with bin Laden during the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes against the United States.

Relatives have told newspapers in Sudan that as a young man, al Qosi spent most of his time in a neighborhood mosque, paying so little attention to his formal studies that he was not able to get into university after finishing high school.

``He was only committed to his religion,'' his brother Abdullah told the Khartoum daily Al Sahafa last month, adding the family lost track of him in 1996.

One of the four Guantanamo Bay prisoners who allegedly fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan against U.S. or coalition troops pleaded innocent to war crimes charges Wednesday.

Defense attorneys for David Hicks, a 29-year-old Australian cowboy who studied Islam in Pakistan before going to Afghanistan, challenged the impartiality of the panel, including presiding officer, Army Col. Peter E. Brownback. A trial was set for Jan. 10.

Brownback is friends with Altenburg. He attended his son's wedding and spoke at his retirement roast. His wife also worked in Altenburg's office.

Other members who were challenged included a man who commanded a reserve firefighter who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, an intelligence officer who worked in Afghanistan and a logistician who helped get prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantanamo.

The most extensive challenges to the panel came Tuesday with lawyers for bin Laden's chauffeur, 34-year-old Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen. He declined to enter a plea until motions are filed in November.