Guantanamo defendant calls trial a ‘sham’

Times Staff Writer

A Saudi prisoner Wednesday denounced the war crimes case against him as a politically motivated “sham” and had himself removed from the courtroom in symbolic protest.

Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza Al-Darbi, whose brother-in-law was among the Sept. 11 hijackers, informed the military judge hearing his terrorism conspiracy case that he wanted neither legal representation nor to be present at his trial.

Al-Darbi, 33, has been charged with conspiracy and material support for terrorism for allegedly training with Al Qaeda and plotting to attack ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

Al-Darbi, whose war crimes case is one of seven inching their way toward trial by the military tribunal at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, has yet to enter a plea and made clear he wouldn’t be returning for future sessions.

He arrived in court in the white tunic and blue canvas shoes denoting a compliant detainee and politely told the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, that he did not want to be represented by the military lawyer assigned to his case nor by any civilian attorney.


“History will record these trials as a scandal,” Al-Darbi said. “I advise you, the judge, and everyone else who is present to not continue with this play, this sham.”

Last month, a detainee charged with attempted murder in a grenade attack that wounded two U.S. national guardsmen in Afghanistan also refused to cooperate. Mohammed Jawad, a 23-year-old Afghan who had to be dragged from his cell for a March 12 arraignment, said he would boycott proceedings he considered illegitimate.

Pretrial hearings have begun for two other defendants, and three await arraignment, including another one this week.

Prosecutors have announced their intentions to try seven other Guantanamo prisoners but have yet to serve them with the war crimes charges announced as long as two months ago. Among those awaiting activation are the capital cases against self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and five others accused of roles in those attacks.

The Army lawyer assigned to defend Al-Darbi, Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, is required by the military tribunal’s rules to represent the absent defendant anyway.

But Broyles said he would seek guidance from his bar association in Kentucky, as well as from the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, on whether ethical standards would prohibit his representation of a client who doesn’t want him.

Broyles faces a dilemma if he is ordered by the judge to defend Al-Darbi and advised by legal ethicists against an active role. “There’s every possibility that I’ll end up being a potted plant,” Broyles said.

In his brief address to Pohl, Al-Darbi repeated claims that he had been abused while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan.

Broyles told journalists last month that he’d been told by Al-Darbi that an Army counterintelligence specialist had beaten him and left him hanging from handcuffs during interrogations at Bagram air base, north of the capital, Kabul. Broyles indicated that any trial of his client would probably be bogged down in procedural wrangling for months.

Al-Darbi has never been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant, a necessary step before the tribunal can claim jurisdiction in the case.

None of the allegations against Al-Darbi tie him to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His brother-in-law, Khalid Almihdhar, was one of the five hijackers who commandeered American Airlines Flight 77 and plowed it into the Pentagon.