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Iranian refuses to appear at Cuba hearing

/ Source: news services

An Iranian detainee refused to appear at a U.S. military review hearing Friday, the sixth prisoner in a week to boycott a process intended to determine whether those held at Guantanamo Bay should be set free.

The 25-year-old man, who according to the U.S. military was a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, relayed his decision through an officer assigned as his “personal representative.”

“He dropped out,” said the officer, an Air Force lieutenant colonel whose identity was barred from being made public. “He said, ‘I don’t want to participate anymore.’”

The officer said the Iranian did not give a reason.

The detainee has told the military that he was a cook and a driver and was not involved in combat. In his absence, the open tribunal hearing lasted only 13 minutes, followed by a closed session to discuss classified information.

Lawyer calls hearings a ‘sham’
Eleven cases have been heard since the review tribunals were convened at the U.S. military prison last week. The other detainees who refused to appear were three Yemenis, a Saudi and a Moroccan.

The military has given no reason for their absence, other than to say they had been generally uncooperative.

“If I were them, I would naturally assume that these so-called hearings are just another pretext for extracting information,” said Clive Stafford-Smith, a human rights lawyer in New Orleans who has worked on the cases of dozens of detainees. “They’ve got enough sense to see that this is a sham.”

Human rights groups say the process is grossly inadequate because detainees are not allowed lawyers. They argue that the three military officers who sit on each tribunal cannot be considered impartial. The military says members of the review tribunals are neutral.

ABA invited to observe some hearings
The American Bar Association, which has taken strong stands against some of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, said Friday that it had been invited to watch some pretrial hearings.

ABA President Dennis Archer said at a news conference in Atlanta, where the ABA is holding its annual meeting, that the legal group had received a letter from the Defense Department offering to let one representative observe proceedings scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 23. The hearings involve four prisoners who have been charged with crimes and have defense lawyers.

Archer said the invitation showed that the government was listening to the ABA’s calls for fairness in the treatment of detainees.

Archer said he had asked Neal Sonnett, a Miami defense lawyer who leads the ABA task force on enemy combatants, to attend.

Sonnett, an outspoken critic of many of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies concerning detainees, said the Defense Department realized that if he saw problems, he would report his findings to the ABA.

“They know I’m not exactly a shrinking violet,” he said.

The tribunal process began last week to determine whether 585 prisoners at the prison should continue to be held as “enemy combatants.” The hearings are the first opportunity detainees have had to formally plead their cases since they began arriving at Guantanamo in January 2002.

The review panels have the power to recommend reversing assessments that detainees are enemy combatants, a classification that gives them fewer legal protections than prisoners of war. The initial decisions have yet to be announced; officials say they could be by next week.

The process is separate from military commissions that are to try an initial group of four detainees on war crimes conspiracy and other charges. Pretrial hearings for those cases are planned later this month.

The military convened the Combatant Status Review Tribunals in response to a Supreme Court ruling in June that prisoners had a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts.