- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

Almost seven years after terrorists hijacked airliners and used them as missiles to kill 2,973 people, five men who purportedly plotted the attacks face a military tribunal Thursday.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, will be arraigned simultaneously with the four other detainees inside a high-security courthouse at the remote U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Mohammed boasted of numerous attacks and plots against the United States in a closed military hearing last year, and the al Qaeda kingpin and the accused four others will be given the chance to speak out again in their war crimes trial, according to a top tribunal official, Air Force Brig. Gen. Tom Hartmann.

“In the course of the trial they’ll have the opportunity to present their case, any way they want to present it subject to rules and procedures,” he said. “That’s a great freedom and a great protection we are providing to them. We think … it is the American way.”

The arraignment will begin the highest-profile test yet of a tribunal system that faces an uncertain future. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down an earlier system as unconstitutional in 2006, and is to rule during June on the rights of Guantanamo prisoners, potentially delaying or halting the proceedings.

And with less than eight months remaining in President Bush’s term, presumed presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain both say they want to close the military’s offshore detention center.

Dozens of U.S. and international journalists were flying to Guantanamo Wednesday on a military plane from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, joining prosecutors, defense attorneys and observers who arrived earlier at the Navy base.

Mr. Mohammed and the four purported co-conspirators all face possible death sentences. They are expected to be seated Thursday morning at separate defense tables aligned in a row inside the prefab courthouse. Many of the participants and observers will stay nearby in tents erected on an abandoned airport runway as part of the “expeditionary” legal complex.

The four defendants scheduled to appear with Mr. Mohammed are: Ramzi Binalshibh, said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and al Qaeda leaders; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew and lieutenant of Mr. Mohammed’s; Mr. al-Baluchi’s assistant, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi; and Waleed bin Attash, a detainee known as Khallad, who purportedly selected and trained some of the 19 hijackers.

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