GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Osama bin Laden's former driver can ask senior al-Qaida suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo for help in his war-crimes tribunal, a military judge said Wednesday, overruling concerns that any communication between the detainees could threaten national security.
Yemeni detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan is boycotting his trial, saying the military process is fundamentally unfair. The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, hopes Hamdan will reconsider if given some opportunity to gather material for his own defense.
In a compromise that frustrated both the defense and prosecution, the judge said Hamdan can sign letters to four "high-value" detainees requesting their testimony that he was a low-level driver, not a hard-core terrorist. Any responses would be vetted for security leaks before the defense can see them, and the judge will ultimately decide what can be evidence at trial.
The judge said Hamdan's personal appeals will be limited to his signature on requests drafted by the government. But even this has the government worried that detainees might pass coded messages between them or try to sabotage their cases by providing false testimony.
The judge is trying to keep Hamdan's case on track to be the first Pentagon terrorism prosecution at Guantanamo, scheduling the trial to begin on June 2 with or without the detainee's participation.
But it still may be stalled despite his best efforts. Hamdan remained in his prison cell Wednesday and his defense attorneys, at Hamdan's request, also refused to participate.
The defense asked for "two-way communication" between Hamdan and the "high-value" detainees who allegedly helped run al-Qaida before they were captured and brought to Guantanamo. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer hoped to personally reassure three of the detainees that Hamdan's questions aren't a government trick to get them to reveal details harmful to their own cases.
Prosecutors wanted no contact whatsoever. A CIA affidavit warned that allowing the contacts could spread information about interrogation techniques used with the high-value detainees and possibly reveal the location of Camp 7, a facility hidden inside Guantanamo that is reserved for detainees transferred out of secret CIA prisons.
Hamdan, 37, was captured at a roadblock in Afghanistan in November 2001, allegedly with two surface-to-air missiles in the car. He faces up to life in prison if the tribunal convicts him of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.
The military plans to prosecute about 80 of the roughly 275 men held at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. So far only one, David Hicks, has been convicted.