It was late last Friday afternoon when Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, also known as "Spin Ghul", was led into an imposing federal courtroom in Brooklyn for his first public court appearance. A slight 43-year-old Nigerian man, he was seated across from his assigned lawyer.
As Judge Edward Korman patiently explained to him the lawyer's role, Ghul interrupted: "She doesn't represent me." Korman, a white-haired judge who's served on the federal bench since 1985, tried to convince him that Susan Kellman, the defense lawyer he'd assigned him, is actually a very good lawyer. Ghul wasn't listening.
"Hand me over to a military court," Ghul said, through an interpreter. "I don't understand this U.S. legal system."
Ghul was charged with conspiracy to murder Americans and bomb U.S. diplomatic facilities, among other crimes, in a secret indictment filed last February.
Judge Korman explained that he wouldn't understand the military commission system at Guantanamo Bay either. And, he added, "I don't have the power to decide if you get charged in a military court." That power, he explained, resides with the U.S. president.
Gul insisted: "I did fight against their forces, so I should be in a military court," he said. "I am a warrior."
It was perhaps the first time a criminal defendant in a U.S. court begged a federal judge to send him to Guantanamo. While unusual, it wasn't all that surprising. After all, in the world of al Qaeda, it's far more honorable to be seen as a warrior fighting global jihad than a vicious criminal who's trying to kill innocent people. It's a status symbol. Those convicted by military commission have also generally received far lighter sentences than those convicted in U.S. federal court. Of the seven convicted by military commission so far, four have already been released.
As retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, explained earlier that day on a panel we both spoke on, with Terror Courts author Jess Bravin, at Bloomberg, prosecuting detainees in military courts gives them exactly that "warrior" status they crave, but don't deserve. These aren't warriors, said Hutson, they're "criminals" and "thugs" and should be treated as such.
Though Judge Korman listened to Ghul's objections and explained patiently that he was doing the best he could for him, it was clear that Ghul would indeed be treated as a suspected criminal and thug. Ghul, who waived his Miranda rights when he was first interviewed by U.S. officials last year, has pleaded not guilty.
In court on Friday, Judge Korman took pains to explain to Ghul that because of the U.S. Constitution, in federal court he will get a fair trial. Because he has life tenure, Judge Korman explained, he won't be swayed by political pressures. Indeed, Judge Korman recently made headlines for ordering the Obama administration to make the morning-after pill available without age limits.
Ghul responded: "If this is how things are going to go, then I will shut my mouth and let you do whatever you want with me. . . . I don't mind if I'm killed."
"Just like I don't have the power to send you to a military commission, I don't have the power to send you to die," said Korman.
To Ghul, it seems, the actual delivery of justice is a worse fate.
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