A Sudanese man, who U.S. military prosecutors alleged was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, has appeared before a military commission set to try him on war crimes charges. Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi is the last of four people accused of conspiring to attack the United States to face pre-trial hearings this week at a U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Air Force attorney for Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi told a military court Friday that because of a proposed job change, she is not yet prepared to defend her client, who is accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism and murder. His tentative trial date was then pushed back to early December.
After Friday's hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Sharon Shaffer told reporters the Pentagon has denied her some of what she says she needs, including access to witnesses, to mount a full defense.
"It's a shame because, with something that's happening that has not happened in over 50 years, this is a historical moment, and it's important that all of the offices are completely staffed with what they need," said Ms. Shaffer.
Seated next to her in court, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, wearing a skullcap and long beard, appeared confused at times as he listened through headphones to an Arabic translator.
"He was very, very, very disappointed in the interpretation," she added. "About half of the time, he indicated that the translation was broken up, and he wasn't getting the full picture of what was taking place."
Military prosecutors charge the Sudanese defendant worked as an accountant and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and was a long time associate of the man behind the September 11 attacks. He is one of nearly 600 detainees held as enemy combatants here at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. He is one of 15 designated to face trial before the first U.S war crimes commissions since World War Two.
Legal and human rights groups have condemned these trials as lacking fairness, pointing out that hearsay and secret evidence can be introduced to military officers who will serve as prosecutor, judge and jury. Pentagon officials have also acknowledged problems with inaccurate translations.
Sam Zia-Zarifi of Human Rights Watch says that raises the possibility that defendants could be convicted based on inaccurate testimony.
"The United States government has had almost three years to prepare for this moment, and the fact that there are not enough proper translators right now and that there is really not even a proper oversight process to determine how good the translation was really, unfortunately, casts doubt on the whole process," he added.
But Army Colonel Robert Swann, the chief prosecutor for these tribunals says all resources will be devoted to obtaining the most accurate translations possible.
"It does us no good to go through a process and then be told we made an error and that we have to start the whole process all over again," said Mr. Swann. "My job is to provide that full fair hearing to each of these individuals. They will get it, and the process will be acceptable to the international community, when all is said and done."
The Pentagon maintains everyone accused of being a terrorist is presumed innocent, until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.