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Sunday, August 29, 2004

"Macaroon Court"?? No, You Idiot, We Said Kangaroo Court 

Via our distinguished colleague Michael Froomkin at Discourse.net, a testimonial to the even-handedness and impartiality of Col. Peter E. Brownback III, a presiding officer at the Guantanamo tribunals, where a handful of lucky detainees have at last been charged with crimes after more than two years of imprisonment:
Commander Swift said that Colonel Brownback should be disqualified because he said at a July 15 meeting with some lawyers that he did not believe Guantánamo detainees had any rights to a speedy trial. Colonel Brownback sharply denied making the remark.

But hours later at the conclusion of the day's proceedings, Commander Swift stunned Colonel Brownback when he said he had just learned that an audiotape of the meeting existed and he would like to include it in his request that Colonel Brownback be disqualified. Colonel Brownback covered his face with his hands for several moments and then agreed to have the tape recording included.
He also found this item from the Telegraph:
The alleged terrorist [Salim Ahmed Hamdan] had little chance to speak except to say la (no) and na'am (yes) as his defence counsel almost immediately began to challenge the legitimacy of the hearings. Asked by the defence whether he believed the orders establishing the military commission were lawful, Colonel Brownback paused, and to the surprise of some observers, said: "I choose not to answer that question at this time." Asked again by the military prosecutor, Commander Scott Lang, Colonel Brownback replied that he had "a duty to comply" with any order, even if it was "questionable".
Here, via Cursor, is a peek inside Brownback's courtroom, which demonstrates why America's system of constitutional guarantees was the envy of the world -- at least until the Pentagon and the White House counsel decided to improve it:
An Arabic-English translator quoted defendant Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul as telling the U.S. war crimes tribunal, "I am from al Qaeda and the relationship between me and Sept. 11..."

At that point the tribunal's presiding officer cut him off. Court was recessed a few minutes later after a confusing conversation between the presiding officer, Army Col. Peter Brownback, who spoke in English, and al Bahlul, who was listening through earphones to an Arabic-English translator . . . .

Bahlul, a small man with a shaved head and newly shaved chin, wore khaki pants and a baggy gray polo shirt. He was not handcuffed or shackled and refused to stand when court was called to order. He did not enter a plea and most of the hearing was spent trying to establish whether he wanted his military lawyers to continue representing him.

Bahlul asked to act as his own attorney and Brownback said no, because the rules required defense attorneys to be U.S. citizens and military officers licensed to practice law and with security clearance. Bahlul then requested a Yemeni lawyer and was again told the rules did not allow that.

But it took a long series of confused exchanges to clarify his preference. Several times Brownback signaled those speaking to slow down because the translators could not keep up. The translators seemed to have trouble explaining legal terms, and Brownback sometimes used military jargon.

At one point, a translator quoted Bahlul as saying he had studied some law in Yemen. Another translator interrupted and told the court; "My understanding was he knew some people who practiced law in Yemen."

Brownback told Bahlul that he needed a lawyer who understood U.S. law and culture. He tried to clarify that by asking: "Is your understanding of our culture sufficient to make things that appear strange appear not so strange?"

Brownback said Bahlul needed an attorney because the rules allow the use of secret evidence, which defense lawyers can see but prisoners cannot. Bahlul said that was unfair and seemed to be trying to explain his understanding of confessions made under pressure when he apparently acknowledged al Qaeda ties.

The hearing resumed after the recess with a different translator and it became clear that Bahlul wanted to either defend himself or have a Yemeni lawyer.
There's nothing like a "fair trial" in which the defense doesn't understand the charges, and the court can't quite figure out what in hell the defense is trying to say.

You're telling me I have the right to remain violent?

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