Fri, Jan 13, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Bin Laden aide `boycotts' court in Guantanamo

AFP , GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA

A former aide to Osama bin Laden on Wednesday made a defiant appearance before a US military court as the Guantanamo "war on terror" camp marked the fourth anniversary of its operation.

Ali Hamza Ahmad al-Bahlul, a 37-year-old Yemeni, told the war crimes tribunal he would boycott the hearings because he was not allowed to defend himself and did not recognize its authority.

Bahlul, an al-Qaeda propaganda specialist, appeared in court four years to the day after al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners started arriving at the controversial US detention camp in Cuba.

The Yemeni, who is accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism, was one of the first to be moved to the camp, which has been the subject of regular allegations of abuse.

Bahlul refused to be represented by any American lawyer and even to speak to his appointed US military defender, Major Thomas Fleener, who said he is sympathetic to the Yemeni's demand to defend himself.

Bahlul acknowledged at a previous hearing in 2004 that he was a bin Laden follower.

At the latest hearing, Bahlul declared in Arabic that he was boycotting the proceedings and set out his opposition to the US military court, stating that the US is an enemy of Muslims.

He referred to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda chief in Iraq, and demanded that all Guantanamo detainees be designated prisoners of war, rather than "enemy combatants" which gives them fewer legal rights.

"We are prisoners of war and legal combatants based on our religion and our religious beliefs," he said. "We do not care about anything you call us."

Bahlul complained about the treatment of detainees and ended his speech with one word in English: "Boycott."

The tribunal refused Fleener's request to stand down as the Yemeni's lawyer. The military lawyer has called the tribunals a "wholly illegitimate process."

Later, a separate panel started hearing the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian who was 15 when he was detained in Afghanistan in 2002 and accused of killing a US military medic with a hand grenade during a battle. Khadr asked for his military defenders to be changed.

The latest hearings came on the fourth anniversary of the opening of the camp for detainees rounded up in Afghanistan, Iraq and other hotspots in the "war on terror" declared by US President George W. Bush after Sept. 11.

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