updated 8/27/2004 12:27:58 PM ET 2004-08-27T16:27:58

A U.S. military commission postponed a preliminary hearing for a Sudanese man accused of being an al-Qaida paymaster after his lawyer asked for more time to prepare Friday.

The United States says Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi was an accountant and paymaster for al-Qaida and a longtime associate of Osama bin Laden, the terror network’s chief.

Al Qosi, who was born in 1960, is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, including attacking civilians, murder, destruction of property and terrorism.

His lawyer, Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer, had asked to withdraw from the case after being offered a job as a deputy chief trial judge for the Air Force. But she was given permission on Wednesday to continue representing al Qosi. To avoid a conflict, she won’t get certified for her new job until she finishes the case.

Although one request was already denied, Shaffer again asked to have an assistant counsel. She has not worked on al Qosi’s case since July.

Presiding officer Army Col. Peter E. Brownback postponed the preliminary hearing until Oct. 4. A tentative trial date was set for Dec. 7. Al Qosi did not enter a plea.

Wartime civil liberties

Al Qosi was the fourth prisoner to appear this week in the historic commissions — the first since World War II. The commissions are being heavily criticized by defense attorneys and observers who have questioned the impartiality of panel members and the accuracy of the court translations.

Also at issue is whether the men should be tried in the commissions before their status as “enemy combatants” is decided. The classification gives them fewer legal protections.

U.S. charges allege that al Qosi traveled with bin Laden, served as a driver and quartermaster, and worked as an accountant and treasurer for a business intended to provide income and cover for al-Qaida terror operations, including the procurement of explosives and chemicals.

He also allegedly signed checks on behalf of bin Laden.

Yemeni admits al-Qaida loyalty
In a dramatic turn on Thursday, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul, 36, of Yemen, rejected his appointed advocates and argued to represent himself. He also admitted to being a member of al-Qaida.

Although the remark was ordered to be disregarded, it could be used against him in a trial. Al Bahlul’s request to represent himself is to be considered by John D. Altenburg Jr., a retired Army general in charge of the proceedings.

Inaccurate translations also muddled al Bahlul’s preliminary hearing — the first step in military commissions, or trials. Several of al Bahlul’s words were rendered incorrectly, said Arabic-speaking journalists in attendance and a translator for another charged Guantanamo prisoner.

One translator said al Bahlul had said he had legal knowledge obtained in Yemen. His linguist, however, said he instead told the panel he knew people in Yemen who did.

In Friday’s proceedings, Brownback told the translators to only translate what was said, not to explain any questions.

Relatives have told newspapers in Sudan that as a young man, al Qosi spent most of his time in a neighborhood mosque, paying so little attention to his formal studies he was not able to get into university.

“He was only committed to his religion,” his brother Abdullah told the Khartoum daily Al Sahafa last month, adding the family lost track of him in 1996.

Australian's turn
David Hicks, one of the four Guantanamo Bay prisoners who allegedly fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan against U.S. or coalition troops, pleaded innocent to war crimes charges Wednesday.

Defense attorneys for Hicks, a 29-year-old Australian cowboy who studied Islam in Pakistan before going to Afghanistan, challenged the impartiality of the panel, including Brownback. A trial was set for Jan. 10.

Brownback is friends with Altenburg. He attended his son’s wedding and spoke at his retirement roast. His wife also worked in Altenburg’s office.

Other members who were challenged included a man who commanded a reserve firefighter who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, an intelligence officer who worked in Afghanistan and a logistician who helped get prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantanamo.

On Tuesday, bin Laden’s chauffeur, 34-year-old Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, declined to enter a plea until motions are filed in November.

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