Government Pressing to Finalize Conviction By Discredited Bush Military Commission
Why would the Obama administration, after having suspended the Bush military commissions that President Obama called an “enormous failure,” now be pushing to finalize the conviction and life sentence of a detainee who boycotted his trial due to procedures that he — and much of the world — insisted were unfair?
As I noted in my story today on the possible revival of the military commissions, the case of Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul presents this strange contradiction: if the Obama administration thought the commissions as constituted under President Bush were so problematic that they needed to be suspended for 120 days to be studied, shouldn’t the conviction and sentence of one of only three detainees tried by the commissions be put on hold too?
David Frakt, Bahlul’s appointed defense lawyer (Bahlul wanted but wasn’t allowed to represent himself at the trial) told me yesterday that the government has been pressing the military commission’s convening authority to finalize his client’s conviction and sentence, even though Frakt thinks there are strong reasons not to. For example, Frakt said, Bahlul was convicted by a panel of officers, many of whom had also been impaneled on the jury in the terrorism trial of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. Whatever evidence they might have heard about terrorism or al-Qaeda in Hicks’ trial, then, might well be influencing their views in Bahlul’s case, particularly since Bahlul wouldn’t allow his lawyer to put up a defense.
“It’s just bizarre,” says Frakt, an Air Force Reserve major. “That would never be allowed in any other legal system.”
Frakt has been trying to ask the commissions to delay finalization of the conviction and sentence until the Obama administration states clearly what it intends to do about the military commissions, and whether there’s some place he can appeal to.
Frakt said he’s asked to meet with the director of the task force reviewing the military commissions for the Obama administration, but his requests have been ignored.
“I don’t know who else to ask,” he says. “The judge’s role is over. Mr. Bahlul has forbidden me from representing him in any way. They know that, or suspect there won’t be any defense, so they can do anything they want with him.”