GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Defendants at Guantanamo Bay are turning their backs on U.S. war crimes trials, creating complications in the long-stalled effort to prosecute suspected terrorists.
Three alleged al-Qaida operatives have now chosen to boycott their upcoming trials and more are expected to do the same as the military attempts to prosecute dozens of prisoners at this isolated, high-security U.S. base overlooking the Caribbean.
Two men, a Saudi and a Yemeni, at pretrial hearings this week denounced the tribunals as a sham and said they would not cooperate with their defense or appear for future hearings.
Defense attorneys say that they must uphold the wishes of their clients and that they could face sanctions from the bar associations in their home states if they don’t.
Military judges have told lawyers that they must carry on with their defense even if their clients boycott. But Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles said he “almost certainly” will file a challenge against the order that he defend his client in any case.
The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said he vowed to continue with the tribunals, also known as military commissions.
Even so, the boycotts have created an ethical dilemma and could slow trials that had been scheduled to begin in early summer – but are now widely expected to be delayed again. They may also create starkly one-sided proceedings.
“Without a credible defense effort, any convictions will simply fail to stand up to scrutiny in the court of world public opinion,” said David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.