FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Reuters) - A former al Qaeda foot soldier's appeal of his Guantanamo Bay war crimes conviction stalled on Wednesday as U.S. attorneys clashed over his legal representation in a test of the military tribunal system.
The dispute halted a fact-finding hearing at a military base outside Washington about whether Ibrahim al Qosi, 57, who reportedly rejoined al Qaeda after his 2012 release from Guantanamo Bay, was an enemy belligerent.
Qosi, a cook and occasional driver for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, pleaded guilty in 2010 before a military commission at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. He was transferred to his native Sudan after completing a reduced term.
The head of the Guantanamo legal defence team had appointed two lawyers to appeal his conviction for conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support to terrorism to a military appeals court.
The tribunal, the Court of Military Commission Review, had sent the case back to a lower military court to demonstrate whether Qosi actually wanted to appeal and to determine whether he had taken up arms against the United States.
Prosecutors argued on Wednesday that only Suzanne Lachelier, Qosi's original attorney and one of the lawyers to file the appeal, was empowered to represent him there. Qosi also may not be aware that an appeal was under way, they said.
"A unilateral decision by the defence (to appoint attorneys for Qosi) is not enough to pursue the case," Air Force Major Charles Dunn told Judge Army Colonel James Pohl.
Defence lawyers said legal rules allowed them to start a case to clear Qosi's name even though they had had no contact with him.
Pohl said he would ask the appeals court to clarify its March order that Lachelier and her colleague Mary McCormick get Qosi's assent to act as his attorney.
Lachelier testified on Wednesday that she had an unspecified conflict of interest in the lower court and could not represent Qosi on the question of whether he was an enemy belligerent.
Defence lawyer Michael Schwartz told reporters after the hearing that the delay was to be expected in a military tribunal system set up to try suspected militants outside the normal civilian courts.
"The reality of this dilemma is that we're in new territory. This has never been done," he said.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Grant McCool