Blog of Rights

Almost Back to Square One

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project at 2:29pm

Even as the proceedings in the 9/11 defendants' cases were stalled, the chief military commissions prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris, was telling journalists yesterday he wants trials in five other cases to be finished before the next president takes office. In two of Morris' flagship cases, the United States has the distinction of being the first nation in modern times to prosecute child soldiers for war crimes: Omar Khadr was 15 when he was picked up, and Mohammad Jawad was about 16. Each was severely abused in U.S. custody and Jawad appears to have been subjected to deliberate and systematic cruelty; he has tried to commit suicide. The third case on Morris' list is against Ahmed al-Darbi, who has said he was subjected to torture at the U.S. detention center at Bagram, in Afghanistan, during the time that some of the worst abuses there took place. In the remaining cases, those of Ibrahim al-Qosi and Ali Hamza Ahmed al-Bahlul, it doesn't look like the accused will participate in the trial; each defendant has said he will boycott the proceedings because he thinks the system is stacked against him.

The reality is that Col. Morris' aspirations are unlikely to be borne out and the second hearing Monday, in al-Darbi's case, shows why. Al-Darbi was in court for a short proceeding in which his assigned military defense counsel, Lt. Col. Brian Broyles, was replaced by a civilian attorney, Ramzi Kassem.

After the hearing, Broyles explained that his client never came to trust him because "the attorney-client relationship is close to impossible to establish" in the military commissions where counsel are imposed on a prisoner, "compounded by the fact that counsel wear the same uniform as [the prisoner's] interrogators."

According to Broyles, leaving the case was in the best interests of his client: "I may be the best lawyer in the world, but no matter how good I am, if I don't have a good attorney-client relationship with my client, I'm not his counsel."So the al-Darbi case is almost back to square one, with a new defense team. When asked about the impact of new counsel on Morris' timeline for completing trials before January 20, Broyles replied, after a pause, "It's not about timing, it's about doing justice."

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