Saudi boycotts tribunal, calls U.S. God's enemy
GUANTANAMO BAY US NAVAL BASE, Cuba, Apr 25 (Reuters) A Saudi charged with being part of an al Qaeda bomb-making cell branded the United States today as an enemy of God and rejected its right to try him in a military tribunal.
Jabran Said bin al Qahtani, an electrical engineer captured at an al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan in March 2002, appeared for a pretrial hearing near the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wearing the beige prison garb given to detainees classed as ''compliant.'' But when questioned by the hearing's presiding officer, Navy Capt. Daniel O'Toole, Qahtani said he wanted no part of the tribunal and refused to accept the military defense lawyer assigned to his case.
''I don't want an attorney. I don't want a court,'' said Qahtani, a father of two in his late 20s, with bushy dark hair and a shaggy beard.
''A nation that is an enemy of God is not a leader and cannot be a leader,'' added the detainee, who spoke through a court translator. ''You judge me and you sentence me the way you want, if this is God's will.'' Qahtani, who at times fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat next to the defense lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, said he would prefer to be killed than cooperate. He warned the court that perhaps ''God would provide me with rescue and then you will regret everything.'' After a recess, Qahtani did not reappear in court. His lawyer said Qahtani decided to boycott the proceedings because he denied the legitimacy of the tribunals and would not return unless physically forced to attend.
JUDGE CHALLENGED Broyles then challenged O'Toole's right to hear the case, saying the presiding officer had shown himself an advocate of the prosecution in earlier rulings, including orders that have kept Qahtani from seeing evidence against him.
''Those acts were acts inappropriate to an impartial officer,'' the defense lawyer told a visibly riled O'Toole, who later ruled himself fit to preside.
Qahtani is one of three detainees who face tribunal hearings this week. His alleged co-conspirators are Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian citizen, and another Saudi named Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi.
The tribunals were established by President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11 attacks. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on their legality.
All three who face proceedings this week were captured by Pakistani forces at a house in Faisalabad. The U.S. military says former al Qaeda operations director Abu Zubaydah gave them the job of making hand-held remote-control bomb detonators of a kind later used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
They are among 10 of the 490 detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp who have been charged with war crimes before the tribunals, known formally as commissions. All of those charged so far face life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors say they may charge another two-dozen detainees, some of whom could face the death penalty.
Qahtani's attorney has said he intends to challenge evidence against his client, which he believes was obtained through torture and cannot be used under a formal Defense Department directive issued last month.
Rejection of the tribunal system is emerging as a common tactic among detainees. Barhoumi, who is charged with training Qahtani and Sharbi on electronic detonators, could also boycott his hearing tomorrow day, his military attorney said.
REUTERS OM RAI0213