GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Usama bin Laden's former driver has joined other Guantanamo detainees in refusing to participate in his war-crimes trial, declaring Monday he felt no hope for justice after more than six years in confinement.
The case against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni, is scheduled to be the first to reach trial at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba next month. But his decision to boycott could prolong a process already delayed by legal challenges.
"I refuse participation in this, and I refuse all the lawyers that are presiding on my behalf," Hamdan told the judge through an interpreter. "My feeling does not allow me to continue to speak."
The U.S. says Hamdan delivered weapons to Al Qaeda and its associates and trained at terrorist camps. He could get life in prison if convicted on charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.
His lawyers concede he was a driver for bin Laden, but say he had no significant role in planning or carrying out attacks against the U.S.
Three other alleged Al Qaeda operatives earlier indicated they will boycott the first American war-crimes tribunals since World War II. Other military judges have said the trials would continue without the detainees, but defense lawyers have indicated they will challenge orders to defend their clients without consent.
The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, tried to persuade Hamdan to stay for the pretrial hearing and then ordered a recess without consulting the detainee further.
"I understand your frustration with the process, and I know it has been a very long one, but they're here to help you," Allred said of the defense attorneys.
Hamdan's attorneys say he is frustrated at their inability to get him out of a maximum-security prison, where he is confined alone in a cell for as many as 22 hours a day. The attorneys, who have filed a motion to improve his living conditions, say he cannot focus on anything else and has begun to break down mentally.
Hamdan, who appeared to have lost weight since his last appearance in February, wore a beige prison jumpsuit to the hearing in the hilltop courtroom overlooking the Caribbean, a change from his usual attire of a flowing robe and sports coat.
He was captured at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan in November 2001 and has been imprisoned on the isolated base since May 2002.
He was first charged more than three years ago. But his prosecution has been delayed by legal challenges, one of which led to the Supreme Court striking down the original rules for military tribunals last year.
The U.S. holds about 275 men at Guantanamo and plans to prosecute about 80 before the military tribunals. So far, none of the cases has gone to trial although the military convicted one detainee, David Hicks, through a plea agreement that returned him to his native Australia to serve a nine-month prison sentence.