Guantánamo case considered to test black community’s aspirations

The fate of an American black man awaiting sentencing in absentia before a military tribunal is considered a test case for the black community’s aspirations for equal treatment under the law.

Despite strong racial tensions and growing radicalisation, the case of 22-year-old Ahmaud Arbery has garnered almost zero public attention.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who is presiding over Arbery’s case in the US military court at Guantánamo Bay, Florida, heard arguments on Wednesday.

His fate rests with the jury, made up of three military officers and two civilian ones, and which will render its verdict on Friday.

In 2006, Arbery and five other men were detained by the US government in Afghanistan after a day of fighting with the Taliban. The other men were released after two years. Arbery, who is described as a vulnerable recruit, is being prosecuted for spying and is facing a sentence of life in prison.

“I think if they find true what I have always believed … that he is innocent, this case should be thrown out,” his lawyer, Peter Quijano, told the BBC.

“I am confident that the jury will be convinced the only reason my client is here is to scare the black community,” Arbery’s family told The Washington Post.

His trial was instigated by his father. He accused US officials of making a “racist” and “illegal” decision to turn his son over to a military court and confine him for the entirety of his adult life.

“All [he] did was join a group that came and did some duty in Afghanistan,” the Washington Post quoted Arbery’s father, Joseph, as saying in October.

Arbery was shot twice in the back of the head by a US soldier after the soldiers clashed with a group of militants who had attacked a coalition base. Arbery was injured but survived.

His family, a black group in Oregon called the Black Liberation Army and an Arab militant group called the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, identified Arbery as the leader of their militia.

Arbery’s mother and some soldiers were in court during the hearing on Wednesday. They were part of a cross-section of black militants gathered outside the courthouse.

Arbery’s US military detention has attracted the interest of the international media as he faces the longest military sentence ever for spying.

The judge has given Arbery 48 hours to respond to letters written by Arbery’s mother, son and other supporters, who say he is the victim of political vendettas. He has 10 days to make a decision on whether he is willing to go ahead with the trial.

His attorneys say that there is overwhelming evidence that Arbery is innocent.

On Wednesday, two military officers testified that they believe Arbery cannot receive a fair trial. The chief prosecutor for the prosecution and two other officers testified that Arbery could receive a fair trial.

“Your honour, I have a difficult time believing that based on the evidence I’ve seen,” said Jeannie Jelincic, a former prosecutor with the Army Combat Readiness Centre.

The judge expressed doubt about the reliability of some of the evidence. She agreed to postpone the start of the trial to Monday.

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