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Al Qaeda man faces tribunal

Detainee admits being a member of organization

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A former driver for Osama bin Laden defers entering a plea.
U.S. v. David Hicks (FindLaw, PDF)external link
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Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
Osama Bin Laden

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CNN) -- A self-confessed member of al Qaeda accused of conspiracy against the United States went before a military tribunal Thursday, the third such hearing in as many days.

Government prosecutors allege that Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul of Yemen was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and was asked by the al Qaeda leader to create a tape using the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole to recruit and inspire al Qaeda members.

Al Bahlul told the commission that he is a member of al Qaeda. He said he is admitting this freely and was not pressured by the U.S. government to do so.

The presiding officer, Army Col. Peter Brownback, reminded the detainee that he was not yet under oath and that his comments would not be entered into the record, but the prosecution asked that they be noted.

When asked if he had any questions about his appointed attorney, Lt. Cmdr. Philip Sundel of the Navy, al Bahlul asked if he could represent himself in the proceeding.

Brownback said the rules for the commission did not permit that.

"I would like to know why and if not ... I would like to represent myself," the defendant said through an interpreter.

In pretrial motions, Sundel has indicated he might be leaving active service next January.

Al Bahlul continued to insist that he represent himself, and the presiding officer -- sometimes showing frustration -- called a recess in the proceedings.

During a brief session after the recess, al Bahlul was asked if he would accept a Yemeni attorney. He said he would, if it could be guaranteed that no harm would come to his attorney.

No further hearing date nor trial date was set for al Bahlul. His military attorney has until September 3 to file motions asking if al Bahlul can represent himself and if he can have a foreign attorney.

Australian pleaded not guilty

Al Bahlul is one of four detainees charged with conspiracy to attack civilians, conspiracy to attack civilian objects, murder, destruction of property and terrorism.

Wednesday, Australian David Hicks appeared before the tribunal.

Hicks faces two additional charges of attempted murder and aiding the enemy. He pleaded not guilty.

His military defense attorney, Maj. Michael Mori, told the judge he planned to file 19 motions challenging the legality of the proceedings and the qualifications of five commissioners on the tribunal. Those motions will be heard November 2.

A tentative trial date of January 10 has been set for Hicks.

Mori joins other defense attorneys filing motions challenging the proceedings.

"The reality is [Hicks is] facing an unfair justice system that is not tolerated anywhere else in the world, so where does that leave him?" Mori asked reporters following the arraignment.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who represents another of the four detainees, has also challenged the qualifications of five of the six commission members, including those of Brownback, a retired military judge brought back for the military tribunal. The commission is composed of five members and an alternate.

Swift represents Salim Ahmen Hamdan of Yemen, who was arraigned Tuesday. He has also filed a motion challenging Hamdan's status as an enemy combatant.

Hamdan on Tuesday deferred entering a plea to allow for the motions to be ruled on first.

Hicks is accused of fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan and being part of a group that included American Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh, who is serving a prison sentence in California for aiding the Taliban.

Hicks' father: Son talked of abuse

Hicks' father, Terry, said his son -- who converted to Islam -- joined the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999 and has also fought in Pakistan.

In 2001, Hicks allegedly attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and met bin Laden.

Before the arraignment, father and son were allowed their first meeting in five years.

"He told us some unpleasant stories," Terry Hicks said. "His treatment wasn't very pleasant in the early stages."

Hicks said his son told him he was physically abused while in custody before he was taken to Guantanamo Bay and that, since he has been in Cuba, the abuse has been "mental stress and duress type stuff."

If Hicks and Hamdan are convicted, each could be sentenced to life in prison.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi is the fourth detainee facing charges. He allegedly served as deputy chief financial officer for al Qaeda and was also a bodyguard for bin Laden.

The Pentagon said the detainees do not qualify for a court-martial because they're not prisoners of war and were not captured while fighting as part of a regular army.

Roughly 600 people are being detained at the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo. The United States has determined through ongoing review tribunals on the status of the prisoners that so far only 15 are eligible for trial before the military commission.

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Eric Fiegel contributed to this report

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