By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 25, 2006 – A Saudi man facing trial by military commission today followed the example of several detainees before him and rejected his detailed military defense counsel.
Jabran Said Bin Al Qahtani, who is accused of constructing circuit boards to be used as timing devices in bombs, appeared in court wearing his tan detention uniform and sporting long, unkempt hair and a long beard. Qahtani was muttering to himself as he was lead into the room and took the first opportunity he had to decry the commissions process.
“I don’t want this court,” Qahtani said in Arabic when the presiding officer asked him if he needed translation. “You judge and you sentence me the way you want, if this is God’s way.”
When the presiding officer, Navy Capt. Daniel O’Toole, explained to him his right to counsel, Qahtani called it “nonsense,” and said that he does not want his detailed military defense counsel or a civilian defense counsel to represent him.
“I want either to kill me or imprison me, or God will provide me with rescue, and then you will regret everything,” Qahtani said.
Even after O’Toole explained to Qahtani that his detailed counsel is trained, experienced and familiar with the rules of the court, and that his counsel would have access to classified information that he can’t see, Qahtani still asserted that he did not want to be represented by his detailed counsel.
Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, Qahtani’s detailed defense counsel, requested a delay in normal proceedings to consult with his state bar in Kentucky and the standards of conduct office in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps to determine if proceeding without Qahtani’s approval was an ethical violation.
“My view of my obligation to my client dictates that at this point, I would take no action on his behalf,” Broyles said.
Broyles said that despite his extensive experience with ethics, including his work as an ethics instructor, he did not know how to handle this particular situation. “I view this as a relatively unique ethical situation that is beyond my capacity to understand,” he said.
O’Toole gave Broyles the lunch hour to consult with the two offices for their opinions.
After the lunch recess, Qahtani did not appear in the courtroom. Broyles assured O’Toole that this was a conscious, informed decision by the accused, pursuant to his choice to deny the legality of the commissions proceedings in entirety.
Broyles said that he had conferred with his state bar and the JAG office, and they both gave him oral opinions to continue with proceedings and present the best defense possible. Broyles still requested a delay in proceedings until both offices could issue a written opinion, but O’Toole denied his request, saying that Broyles had not raised a valid ethical dilemma.
During voir dire, which is the questioning process used to determine the suitability of the officer to oversee a fair trial, Broyles raised two issues that caused him to challenge O’Toole’s fitness to serve as presiding officer.
One issue had to do with the work of the assistant to the presiding officer with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Broyles said that the assistant was still conducting federal law enforcement training while serving in the commissions, which would conflict with the rules in the presiding officer memorandum that appointed him. But Broyles could not furnish any proof that the training was conducted during the commissions process.
The defense counsel also raised an issue about O’Toole issuing a protective order in favor of the prosecution, without giving the defense a chance to give input. Broyles said that this action showed partiality for the prosecution. O’Toole dismissed this claim, citing his authority to issue protective orders when he deems necessary, because he has a duty to ensure classified information is protected.
After voir dire, the charges were read and the defense reserved its pleas and motions. O’Toole set a date of June 19 to litigate discovery motions, and July 10 to litigate law motions.
According to the charges against him, Qahtani, an electrical engineering graduate of King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, allegedly left that country shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with the intent to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Qahtani attended a terrorist training camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, and then moved to a guesthouse in Pakistan, where he received further training in how to build hand-held remote-detonation devices for explosives, according to the charges.
Qahtani is also alleged to have built circuit boards for use as timing devices in bombs and to have written two instructional manuals on how to assemble these circuit boards.