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Guantanamo lawyers want case tossed

Defenders of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others say a tribunal advisor acted unfairly and illegally.

May 17, 2008|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Military attorneys for confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators called Friday for the dismissal of the charges against the men, saying an Air Force general advising the tribunals applied "unlawful influence" to bring them to trial.

The defense motion followed Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred's ruling last week that disqualified Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann from the case against Salid Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver.

Allred ruled that Hartmann had "failed to retain the required independence from the prosecution function to provide fair and objective legal advice to the convening authority."

The convening authority is Susan J. Crawford, the Pentagon lawyer who oversees the Guantanamo Bay war-crimes tribunal, whose proceedings are known as military commissions.

Mohammed and his four co-defendants are scheduled for arraignment at Guantanamo on June 5.

It was unclear whether the defense motion would be taken up before the arraignment, said Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, defense lawyer for Ramzi Binalshibh, who is accused of conspiring with a terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany.

The five defense lawyers representing the so-called high-value detainees, who face the death penalty if convicted, argued in a 127-page motion that military commission rules require the legal advisor to provide "neutral and objective" advice.

The lawyers cited testimony that last summer Hartmann urged prosecutors to target "sexy" cases and those in which American blood was shed, hoping to boost the tribunal's image as the presidential election approaches.

Hamdan's trial had been set to begin June 2, but on Friday, Allred postponed it to late July. The judge also ordered an evaluation of the defendant's mental capacity to stand trial.

Calls to Hartmann's office in Washington were referred to a spokeswoman for the military commissions, Air Force Maj. Gail Crawford, who said Hartmann would not be commenting.

Commission judges are under no obligation to follow other judges' rulings, Crawford noted.

Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, chief judge for the tribunal, will preside over the case of the five Sept. 11 suspects.

The defense motion said Hartmann had steered Guantanamo prosecutors away from other cases and toward the five defendants in hopes of racking up high-profile convictions.

The convening authority, whose position is similar to attorney general, on Tuesday approved capital charges including murder and conspiracy against Mohammed, Binalshibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi. Also on Tuesday, Crawford dismissed the charges against a sixth suspect, Mohammed Qahtani, who had been accused of being the "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks.

She offered no explanation.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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