Guantanamo prisoner boycotts war crimes trial

Image: Trial
This courtroom sketch shows Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, far left, holding up a handwritten sign during a hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in May. The Yemeni detainee is accused of serving Osama bin Laden as a bodyguard and al-Qaida recruiter. Janet Hamlin / The Canadian Press via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An alleged al-Qaida recruiter said Friday he wants nothing to do with his trial at Guantanamo Bay, calling it a "legal farce" and telling his Pentagon-appointed lawyer not to defend him.

Ali al-Bahlul, a Yemeni who was allegedly Osama bin Laden's personal secretary, left the courtroom midway through his pretrial hearing and said he plans to return only on the days he is convicted and sentenced.

"You can continue your legal play," al-Bahlul said before returning to his maximum-security cell at this U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Before he left, Al-Bahlul sat at the defense table wearing a tan prison jumpsuit with an empty seat between him and his attorney.

"How do you ask me to accept a lawyer when we have so many contradictions?" he asked the judge, Col. Ronald Gregory. "You are the judge, and I am the accused. At the same time you are my enemy."

His lawyer, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, later told reporters that al-Bahlul "thinks the circus has gone on long enough."

Al-Bahlul, 39, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges of conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and supporting terrorism.

Military prosecutors say he created a propaganda video glorifying al-Qaida's October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors.

The chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said justice would be best served if al-Bahlul participates but his office nevertheless aims to put on a fair trial.

Critics say a one-sided trial would damage the image of justice being served in the United States' first war-crimes tribunals since the World War II era.

"To proceed without al-Bahlul mounting a defense would destroy any possibility of having an appearance of legitimacy and fairness," said Jennifer Turner, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who attended the hearing. "That's just not American justice."

The first Guantanamo trial ended last week with the conviction of Salim Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for supporting terrorism. The military plans trials for about 80 of the roughly 265 Guantanamo prisoners.