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Saudi Snubs War Crimes Court

Associated Press

April 9, 2008

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) -- A relative of a Sept. 11 hijacker vowed Wednesday to boycott his upcoming war crimes trial, dismissing the prosecution of Guantanamo prisoners as a political ''sham'' that lacks international legitimacy.

Ahmed al-Darbi, a 33-year-old Saudi, also told a military judge at a pretrial hearing he does not want a lawyer nor does he want to represent himself, creating a potential new delay to a legal process that has been repeatedly stalled by legal and logistical challenges.

''I declare my objection to this court and I will not be present at this trial,'' al-Darbi said through a translator in the courtroom -- a converted air traffic control terminal on the high-security base in southeastern Cuba.

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, questioned the prisoner repeatedly to make sure he was aware of his right to an attorney.

The prisoner, noting he had been held for six years and could spend the rest of his life in prison, was unmoved.

''History will record these trials as a scandal,'' said al-Darbi, dressed in the white jumpsuit usually reserved for the best-behaved prisoners at Guantanamo. ''I advise you the judge and everyone else who is present to not continue with this play, this sham.''

Last month, Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan accused of wounding two U.S. soldiers in a grenade attack, also said he would boycott his trial, accusing authorities of mistreatment.

As with Jawad, Pohl told al-Darbi the trial would proceed without him, and he advised the prisoner he would be better off attending, since he insists on his innocence.

An Army lawyer, Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, is to continue to represent him despite his objections. Any trial is months away.

But Broyles said the legal ethics code of his home state of Kentucky might prevent him from representing someone who doesn't even want to mount a defense, and he hinted at a legal challenge on the issue.

He also said he would seek to hire a Saudi legal adviser since al-Darbi told the judge he would accept a lawyer from his country. Under military rules, only a lawyer who is a U.S. citizen and has security clearance to view sensitive evidence can represent a detainee at trial.

Jamil Dakwar, who observed the hearing for the American Civil Liberties Union, said al-Darbi's planned boycott reflects continuing legal uncertainty over the rules adopted in 2006 to prosecute about 80 prisoners in the first American military tribunals since the World War II era.

''It's another example of turning this into a trial of the military trials themselves and this system of injustice,'' said Dakwar who favors moving the trials to the civilian federal courts.

The military says al-Darbi is a brother-in-law of Khalid al-Mihdhar, one of the hijackers who crashed a plane into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Broyles said the relationship is ''completely irrelevant'' to this case.

Al-Darbi has been charged with conspiring to attack civilians and providing material support to terrorism for allegedly plotting to attack a ship in the Strait of Hormuz or off the coast of Yemen as a member of al-Qaida.

His trial is also expected to include allegations that he was abused while in U.S. custody.

Al-Darbi has said he was interrogated in Afghanistan by Army Pfc. Damien M. Corsetti, a counterintelligence specialist who was acquitted of charges including dereliction of duty, maltreatment and assault in a 2006 court-martial.

Broyles has said Corsetti struck his client and that he and other soldiers left the Saudi hanging from his handcuffs during extended interrogations.

The military has so far filed charges against 15 prisoners at Guantanamo and convicted one, Australian David Hicks, in a March 2007 plea bargain.

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