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Guantanamo prisoner balks at working with defense lawyers

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — A Guantanamo prisoner balked at working with his defense lawyers due to a possible conflict of interest Wednesday, prompting an indefinite recess in his pretrial hearing in Cuba.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi told the military judge Wednesday he wished to stop conferring with the two lawyers assigned to his case, at least temporarily. During the recess, prosecutors will try to arrange a meeting between al-Hadi and one of his former attorneys in hopes of resolving the issue.

“Regrettably, we’re in a little bit of a limbo,” said the judge, Navy Capt. J. Kirk Waits.

The possible conflict involves a former defense team member, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Sean Gleason, who was reassigned in 2013 to another Guantanamo prisoner, Mustafa Hawsawi. Prosecutors turned over to al-Hadi’s lawyers some documents earlier this week regarding conversations the prisoners had in 2007 that contained statements harmful to al-Hadi’s defense, said defense attorney Marine Lt. Col. Thomas Jasper.

Jasper said al-Hadi never agreed to Gleason’s reassignment, making the switch improper.

Waits agreed there was a potential conflict for Gleason representing both Hawsawi and al-Hadi. He said that issue must be resolved, but ruled the hearing could continue since al-Hadi’s current lawyers are conflict-free. Al-Hadi objected.

“I don’t want them to represent me at this time,” he said in Arabic through an interpreter.

Al-Hadi said he wants the option for an independent counsel — one not assigned by the military — but agreed to first meet with Gleason.

Al-Hadi is accused of being an al-Qaida commander who organized deadly attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of war crimes.

He has been imprisoned at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2007, when the Defense Department took custody of him from the CIA.

At his last pretrial hearing in January, defense lawyers asked for an order permanently barring female guards from jobs requiring physical contact with al-Hadi to protect his religious rights. The judge denied the motion in February and rescinded an interim prohibition on the use of female guards. He cited a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that non-resident aliens detained at Guantanamo are not protected under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Associated Press covered Wednesday’s hearing from a video feed at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.

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