Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why the Guantánamo 9/11 military commission cases aren't done yet

An on-scene report from Human Rights First's Daphne Eviatar gives a vivid account of the latest development at Guantánamo: Walid bin Attash, one of the accuseds in the 9/11 military commission case, has written to the judge to fire his attorneys. Excerpt:
Bin Attash, who in previous hearings had asked to fire his death penalty counsel, Cheryl Bormann, was clearly not satisfied by that response. He reiterated that he does not trust either Bormann or Michael Schwartz, his former military-turned-civilian lawyer assigned to represent him. (Notably, at the last hearing, bin Attash said he still trusted Schwartz; apparently that's over.) Although he's not yet willing to say he doesn't trust a new military lawyer assigned to the team, bin Attash did make clear that he doesn't trust the new, junior lawyer to make a motion to dismiss the other two, more senior lawyers, which is what bin Attash apparently wants him to do. 
Judge [Col. James L.] Pohl looked flummoxed. This was not the way things were supposed to happen. Previously, Judge Pohl had ruled that bin Attash had not demonstrated "good cause" to fire his lawyers, and bin Attash hadn't requested to represent himself. Apparently unsure what to do, Judge Pohl on Tuesday morning embarked on a long colloquy with bin Attash about the meaning of legal representation, the jobs of the lawyers and of the judge and the need for bin Attash to either trust his lawyers or go it alone. That went around in circles for a while until one of the government prosecutors, Edward Ryan, finally stepped up to say that he thinks it's now clear there's been an "irreconcilable conflict" between bin Attash and his lawyers and the judge is going to have to consider the facts behind it. "You certainly heard today a clear request from the accused that he wants to be relieved of counsel," said Ryan. "So it has to be dealt with one way or another," he said, adding: "We're talking about right to counsel." 
Dealing with it will have to start by the judge having someone translate bin Attash's letter, which is written in Arabic. 
Judge Pohl eventually agreed. By around 10:30 a.m., an hour and a half into the day's hearing, he announced the military commission would recess until the letter could be translated. Because this is all has to happen on Guantanamo time, the commission is not scheduled to resume until Wednesday morning.

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