Fri, May 09, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Gremlins hit Guantanamo courthouse


First, the sound went out in the US military’s new war-crimes courthouse. Then the lights went dark. To top it off, the defendant announced he was boycotting the proceedings.

By anyone’s account, Wednesday’s debut of the new facility where the Pentagon hopes to try the alleged Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists did not go smoothly. Even the presiding judge, Army Colonel Peter Brownback, got frustrated.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with the AV in this place,” Brownback snapped after audiovisual equipment intermittently cut out as an interpreter translated the words of Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul.

Wednesday’s hearing marked the opening of the US$10 million “Expeditionary Legal Complex.”

On Wednesday, journalists in a spectators’ gallery initially could not hear courtroom sound because of a technical problem. The room is soundproof so the speakers can be turned off when classified evidence is presented. The TV image in the gallery froze, showing Brownback’s mouth agape.

Later, in a press room not far from the courthouse, the sound carrying the English translation faded in and out, forcing journalists to rely on an Arabic-speaking colleague to tell them what al-Bahlul was saying.

The Yemeni detainee said he was boycotting the trial, that he does not recognize the military court and that the prosecution of Muslims at Guantanamo will only further enrage the US’ enemies.

Minutes later, as military prosecutors read the charges, the courthouse was plunged into darkness.

Alarms beeped. Dim backup lights sprang on immediately. Military guards jumped out of their seats and surrounded the detainee, who was not shackled and was sitting alone at one of six long defense tables.

Al-Bahlul, 39, is the fifth detainee to declare a boycott. He sat by himself because he did not want to be near his military attorney. He did not enter a plea.

The US alleges al-Bahlul was a recruiter and personal secretary for Osama bin Laden who armed himself with an explosives belt, rifle and grenades to prevent the terrorist leader’s capture.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges of conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and providing material support for terrorism.

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