Military Commission Trial Observation
Human Rights First, at the invitation of the Department of Defense, is an official observer at the military commissions held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Priti Patel – a lawyer at Human Rights First in the U.S. Law and Security Program – is in Cuba to monitor the proceedings and is reporting back on events as they unfold. She is providing updates of what she observes.
April 24, 2006
Military Commissions Preview: Al Qahtani, Al Sharbi, and Barhoumi
The government is keeping to its fast paced schedule for military commission hearings. This week, hearings for three defendants—Jabran Said bin al Qahtani, Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi, and Sufyian Barhoumi — are to take place at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. All three of the defendants are accused of being part of the same conspiracy to build explosive devices to use against Americans; all three were allegedly seized together in Pakistan along with Abu Zubaydah, who is reportedly held by the United States at an undisclosed location; all three have the same Presiding Officer, Navy Cpt. Daniel E. O’Toole for their military commission hearings; and all three have filed habeas petitions in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging their detention and the legality of the military commissions.
Two of the defendants, al Sharbi and al Qahtani, will appear before the commission for the first time. You may remember Barhoumi from his brief hearing earlier this year, when Presiding Officer Navy Cpt. O’Toole planned to assess Barhoumi’s desires as to legal representation. Cpt. O’Toole held off from further inquiries then because Barhoumi had just learned of his father’s death.
The proceedings this week will generally address a number of pre-trial issues, including the defendant’s desire for counsel, and possible biases and conflicts of interest affecting the Presiding Officer. This week may also see the defendants enter a plea (which is usually deferred for a later date) and the commission is likely to consider scheduling of future hearings. But as a href=”/our-work/law-and-security/military-commissions/”>previous hearings have shown, even these pre-trial hearings rarely move forward without a hitch; issues regarding the legality of the commissions,self-representation, and ethical conflicts have continued to plague the hearings.
Some things to watch out for this week:
There have been reports that al Sharbi did not want to be represented by his lawyers, detailed military defense counsel Navy Lt. William Kuebler or Robert Rachlin, his civilian lawyer who was contacted by al Sharbi’s father for al Sharbi’s habeas claim. Presiding Officer Cpt. O’Toole gave al Sharbi’s legal team some time earlier this year to try to iron out this issue, but it remains unclear whether the issue has been resolved. For a flavor of what we can expect at al Sharbi’s hearing, check out the five-page transcript of his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) hearing (at page 2073).
According to what Barhoumi told the CSRT (at page 1200), he was particularly vexed about not being able to confront all of the evidence against him. He said: “How can I defend myself? All of those accusations and I cannot defend myself?” Commission rules likewise deny defendants the right to see all of the evidence against them, and I expect Barhoumi may raise similar concerns as his commission trial moves ahead.
As with the last set of hearings, the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the legality of the military commissions in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld remains the white elephant in the commission proceedings room. A decision in that case, which could halt proceedings once and for all or give them a green light to proceed, is expected this summer.
That’s it for now. I will keep you posted on what happens this week.