- Noor Uthman Muhammed
The next case to come to pretrial hearings -- this September -- will likely be that of Noor Uthman Muhammed, a Sudanese national accused of working at and recruiting for an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan during the late 1990s. Among other allegations, the United States claims he delivered a fax machine to Osama bin Laden. Noor's lawyers argue that he was ill-treated in U.S. custody and hence statements made to interrogators should not be admitted into evidence.
From the beginning, Noor's case has been a slow, awkward dance between the defense, the prosecution, and the judge, each of whom has access to a different set of classified documents regarding the case. The prosecution claims that the volumes of information it intends to use are too secret for the defense to see. This is not terribly uncommon in federal courts, and clear procedures are put forth in the Classified Information Procedures Act. But ironically, the military commission judges and prosecutors have no experience with this process. So there have been countless delays in processing the scrubbed summaries that pass from the U.S. government to Noor's counsel, after being approved by the judge.
Noor's case has also been marred by counsel issues. In October 2008, one of the prosecutors in Noor's case, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, resigned, saying that he did not think detainees could receive fair trials at the military commissions. The government subsequently withdrew the charges and then refiled them in December 2008.
Meanwhile, Noor's own assigned military counsel, Army Maj. Amy Fitzgibbons, with whom he had established a good working relationship, temporarily left active duty in November 2009. She continued to represent Noor and hoped to continue doing so after starting a new job with the Army's Trial Defense Service in March. However, the Army said she was "unavailable" to serve as his counsel given her new responsibilities representing troops in courts-martial. In taking the new position, she cut the attorney-client relationship, the Army explained. A final solution has yet to be worked out, but Noor boycotted his subsequent hearing on June 30. This issue, of course, would never have arisen in federal court.