Judge Says Detainee's Trial Will Proceed

By Del Quentin Wilber and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 18, 2008

A federal judge yesterday refused to halt Monday's scheduled military trial for Osama bin Laden's driver, ruling that he could not intervene in the military justice process established by Congress.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled from the bench in a motion brought by lawyers for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who were seeking a preliminary injunction to delay the Yemeni detainee's upcoming military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hamdan's attorneys asked for more time to contest the legality of the military commissions and to fight his detention in a federal court.

Referring to a recent appeals court decision in the case of another detainee, Robertson said Hamdan's legal issues should be raised in the federal court system after the military commission process has concluded. He said Congress and the president had determined in a 2006 law that such an approach was the best way to handle these matters.

"This court should be wary about disturbing their judgment," Robertson said, adding that Hamdan's claims "must be decided in the first instance by the military commission," not a federal judge.

Lawyers for Hamdan in Washington said they have not decided how to proceed. His military attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, said in Cuba that "we're disappointed in the court's decision, but we look forward to the military commission process." He said the defense intends to prove that Hamdan "was a driver and a mechanic and not a member of al-Qaeda."

Officials with the Justice Department and the military said they were pleased with the ruling.

"The government looks forward to presenting its case against Mr. Hamdan to the commission," Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin said in a statement.

Col. Lawrence Morris, chief prosecutor for the military commissions, said he views the ruling as a green light to proceed with Hamdan's case and others. Several more Guantanamo detainees are expected to be charged this summer, he said.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that detainees have the right to challenge their detentions in federal court. But it did not resolve how judges should handle cases whose military proceedings are approaching.

Robertson's decision came as pretrial hearings in Hamdan's case continued at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo. Lawyers are arguing a series of issues that will determine, among other things, whether allegedly incriminating statements Hamdan made to interrogators will be admitted into evidence.

Defense lawyers argue that the statements should be thrown out because they were obtained through coercive interrogations. Prosecutors deny any abuse, and FBI agents and other interrogators have testified that Hamdan spoke to them willingly and did not complain of mistreatment.

One FBI agent testified Wednesday that Hamdan actually worked with the U.S. government after he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, helping investigators locate several of bin Laden's compounds.

Markon reported from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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