March 13, 2008 / 12:23 AM / 12 years ago

"I'm a human being," young Guantanamo prisoner says

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A young prisoner accused of throwing a grenade that injured two U.S. soldiers and their translator in Afghanistan called the Guantanamo war court illegal and unfair on Wednesday, and then refused to participate further.

A guard enters the main gate of Camp 5, a maximum security facility at Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba July 28, 2004. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

“I’ve been tortured. I’m a human being. I have not violated any law,” Afghan prisoner Mohammed Jawad said in his first hearing on charges of attempted murder and causing great bodily injury.

“I’ve been brought here illegally . I am innocent. It’s an injustice to me,” he said through a Pashto translator.

His hearing occurred as the United States stepped up efforts to get cases moving in the Guantanamo tribunals created by the Bush administration to try suspected terrorists. Outside the regular military and civilian court systems, they are the first U.S. war tribunals since World War Two.

U.S. military guards carried Jawad to the hearing after he refused to leave his cell to attend. The bearded young man, who said he was 16 when captured in Afghanistan in December 2002, ultimately walked into the red-carpeted courtroom on his own, his hands cuffed, legs shackled and guards on either side.

The judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, allowed Jawad to speak without interruption, even as he compared U.S. forces to the Taliban government that imprisoned and killed people without trial.

Kohlmann explained that the trial would go forward with or without his participation, and urged Jawad to accept a U.S. military lawyer who would argue his position that his treatment violated U.S. and international law.

“The fact that you don’t want this hearing and you say it’s unfair is not going to change the fact that this proceeding is going to be conducted,” the judge said.

‘COMPLETELY FOREIGN’

Jawad refused to have a military or civilian lawyer, and the judge agreed to revisit the issue and delayed entering a plea. Jawad told the judge that years of harsh prison lighting had given him a permanent headache that made him unable to listen further, then removed his translation earphones and laid his head on the table in front of him.

He is accused of throwing a grenade into a U.S. military jeep at a bazaar in Kabul in December 2002, shortly after the United States invaded Afghanistan to oust al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors following the September 11 attacks.

The explosion injured Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lyons, Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Martin and their Afghan interpreter, Assadullah Khan Omerk, the military charges said.

The military lawyer who had been appointed to represent Jawad, Army Col. James Michael Sawyers, said the injured soldiers told investigators they did not see who threw the grenade; an Afghan policeman identified Jawad as the culprit and turned him over to U.S. forces.

Jawad is not accused of having links to al Qaeda. Sawyers said he was born in Pakistan refugee camp to Afghan parents who fled the war against the Soviets in the 1980s, had only a seventh-grade religious education.

“The Western concepts of justice and court I think are just completely foreign to him,” Sawyers said.

Sawyers, a military reservist on his fourth activation, was dismissed as Jawad’s lawyer because his tour of duty ends next week. That leaves the Guantanamo defense team scrambling to find another military lawyer for him and for another Afghan prisoner charged on Wednesday.

Although hundreds of prisoners have been held at Guantanamo for years, only 14 of the captives have been charged in the revised military tribunal system. Thirteen of those cases are still pending, including those against six Guantanamo prisoners who could be executed if convicted of charges of involvement in the September 11 attacks.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Patricia Zengerle

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