Alleged Driver for Bin Laden Boycotts Military Hearing

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 30 -- Salim Ahmed Hamdan carried out his threat Wednesday morning to boycott military commission hearings here, opting to sleep in his prison cell while lawyers debated legal motions ahead of his scheduled trial in late May.

But Hamdan's move immediately put his team of defense lawyers in an awkward position, as the Yemeni detainee had also refused to allow his lawyers to make arguments on his behalf without his presence in the courtroom.

That left prosecutors to argue while defense attorneys sat silently nearby, leaving their earlier written pleadings to stand on their own. Many motions were deferred to later hearings.

"Mr. Hamdan told guards not to wake him this morning, that he didn't want to go to court, he wanted to sleep in," said Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, who is presiding over the hearings. "So they did not wake him."

Allred suggested that the defense team attempt to convince their client in coming weeks that it would be in his best interest to appear in court for the trial. During a 40-minute dialogue with Hamdan on Tuesday, Allred had patiently implored him to take part in the proceedings to try to convince a panel of military officers that he is not guilty of terror charges, but Hamdan did not bend.

Hamdan, allegedly a driver for Osama bin Laden, has already won one Supreme Court decision, a ruling that forced the Bush administration to abandon an earlier trial scheme and turn to Congress for new military commission rules in 2006. But he expressed frustration Tuesday that his status is unchanged after seven years of confinement.

He said in court that he wants justice but that he believes the current military commission system is a sham and will not afford him a fair trial.

U.S. officials, pressing to make Hamdan's case the first full military commission since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, had hoped the trial would showcase how full, fair and open the system can be. Instead, the government is facing the possibility of a trial with a defendant the jurors will not see.

"I want to try to persuade Hamdan to come back to trial," Allred said in granting a defense request to allow Hamdan to write a short note to a group of key detainees alleged to be al-Qaeda members, seeking their help to win Hamdan's exoneration. "The government has an interest, the system has an interest and the defense has an interest in having Hamdan sit there during trial," Allred said.

Military commission rules allow the court to move forward with trial should a defendant choose not to participate, and they let a defendant represent himself. His military lawyers are assigned, but he has the right to approve his civilian lawyers, once they obtain the requisite security clearances.

Hamdan's lawyers have argued in court papers that his mental state has been affected by years of confinement at the Guantanamo Bay facility coupled with violent interrogations years ago. Though Hamdan's statements in court were cogent and appeared well reasoned, his lawyers said it is unclear how the case will proceed and whether Hamdan will continue his boycott.

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