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Gitmo Tribunals: Al-Qaeda Defenders on the Move as Judge Knocks a Surreptitious Censor

The military defenders are capable lawyers, but the passion in the courtroom is interjected by the civilian defense attorneys, whether it's Nevin declaring he has no fear sleeping in a cell with the man who confessed to beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl or Chicago attorney Cheryl Bormann donning an abaya in the presence of her client, bin Attash, but a skirt when the al-Qaeda operatives are back in their cells.

Nevin is there under the umbrella of the John Adams Project, which is a shorter way of saying the ACLU and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have joined forces to send high-profile, pit-bull defense to the aid of al-Qaeda. The project is named so after the Founding Father who defended British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre.

"We took this step because of our grave concerns that the Guantanamo military commissions process does not reflect our country's commitment to justice and due process. The military commissions' authorization of the use of coerced evidence possibly derived from torture, secret evidence, and hearsay is unconstitutional and counter to American traditions of fairness and justice," the ACLU says. The organizations call the military tribunals of the enemy combatants "an egregious situation."

Nevin, from Boise, Idaho, represented and guided Kevin Harris to acquittal in the deadly 1992 Ruby Ridge siege and secured an acquittal for Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a Saudi national brought up on charges of providing assistance to terrorists. For the latter case, Nevin received an award from the  ACLU.

The John Adams Project's supporters include former President Jimmy Carter and former Attorney General Janet Reno.

"I applaud efforts of the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to ensure that the principles of our country are not compromised and the Guantanamo detainees are afforded a fair trial with basic rights of due process," Carter said in a statement of support.

Nevin constantly drops the word torture in his arguments, foreshadowing how the defense will use the admitted waterboarding of Mohammed and next week's defendant -- Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing -- to try to exonerate their clients.

"He was tortured and that torture that was inflicted upon him bears on many things that are related to this case," Nevin said Tuesday in arguing for overnight visits. "One of the primary reasons, in my mind, for the request for 48 hours of continuous presence at the facility, is for us to be able to observe, document, understand, be able to discuss with the court, if it becomes appropriate, exactly what life in these camps is like, and particularly considered in the context of a person who was tortured."

Al-Nashiri is represented by Indiana attorney Richard Kammen, who has called the military proceedings "hopelessly unfair" and referred to his client, implicated in planning multiple attacks outside of the deadly Cole assault, not without “heart or feeling.”

For his part, the al-Qaeda member refers to his lawyer as "Mr. Rick," having explained to the judge previously that he has problems pronouncing Kammen's last name.

Kammen today followed Nevin's motion to suspend proceedings due to concern about the security of defense communications. It's the latest in a flurry of motions filed over the past several weeks before court convenes Monday, including one that moved to dismiss the case from the military tribunal because Congress and the president "impliedly made a political judgment regarding the existence of hostilities through its recognition of military commissions as a forum for adjudication of violations of the laws of war occurring 'before, on, or after Sept. 11, 2001.'"

Saying that he was also subjected to mock execution during his black site interrogations, opponents of the al-Nashiri prosecution will be pressing to allow his recantations of torture. Kammen has compared the military commissions to the Spanish Inquisition and Soviet show trials, has tried to replace the military judge on the grounds that a jurist paid by the Pentagon couldn't rule fairly, and will keep moving for dismissal.

Next week's revisiting of the USS Cole attack, in which 17 were killed and dozens injured in the port of Aden, often falls in the Gitmo shadow of 9/11 and KSM, but the victims and families deserve no less justice.

And to opponents of the military tribunal, the al-Nashiri case offers a platform as they try to paint an al-Qaeda commander as the victim and the U.S. government as the torturer.

Stay tuned to PJM for ongoing coverage of the Guantanamo tribunals.