Accused 9/11 conspirators appear in court at Guantanamo

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GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and his four alleged accomplices appeared Monday in U.S. military court for an oft-delayed pre-trial hearing that will help determine how their eventual trial will be conducted.

Monday’s courtroom appearance was the first by the five 9/11 suspects since May: accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; his nephew, Ali Abdulaziz Ali; Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash; Ramzi bin al-Shibh; and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi.

All five men wore white long-sleeved shirts and matching pants that extended to their ankles, socks and canvas shoes.

Each man sported long beards, and covered his head with either a traditional Pashtun hat, a Muslim prayer cap, or a keffiyeh, a traditional Arab scarf. Mohammed wore a black vest and glasses, and had a long beard dyed red with henna.

Each was escorted by uniformed military personnel.

During the morning session, they spoke to their defense teams and occasionally to each other. Al-Hawsawi laid a mat on the ground and prayed during a short break in the proceedings.

Army Col. James L. Pohl, the chief presiding officer of the military commission that will try the accused plotters, heard three motions Monday.

Col. Pohl postponed a decision on a defense motion for al-Hawsawi to acquire for additional counsel with experience in defending death penalty cases.

The colonel approved a defense motion to allow a lawyer who represented al-Shibh to now represent al-Hawsawi.

He also ruled against a government motion to compel the five suspects to come to each day of the pre-trial hearings this week.

The order in the courtroom was a stark difference from during the May arraignment, when the five refused to answer the judge’s questions or put on headsets translating the proceedings from English to Arabic. In addition, one detainee was restrained for acting out, another had launched into an incoherent rant, and two had stood up during court proceedings to pray, according to the Associated Press.

This time, all five men spoke readily and politely when the judge prompted answers from them.

The only protest came when Mohammed answered a question from the judge, but added: “I don’t think there is any justice in this court.”

Later this week, the court will take up the contested issue of “presumptive classification” — a condition the prosecution wants to implement on the proceedings that could prevent defendants from making any statements in court that their attorneys have a reason to believe could be classified, including information that relates to specific aspects of the CIA [rendition, detention and interrogation] program that remain classified.

The prosecution argues the classification is necessary since the suspects were detained by the CIA before being handed over to authorities at Guantanamo Bay, and could have been exposed to sources and methods used by the CIA to gather intelligence.

“Our government sources and methods are not an open book,” Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, said in a press conference Sunday. “There may still be general sources and methods for intelligence gathering … that could still be bound up in someone’s testimony.”

The defense team for Ali has filed a motion asking the commission not to implement presumptive classification, arguing that the rule is an attempt to cover up embarrassing evidence related to torture while the accused were detained by the CIA.

A 2004 CIA inspector general report revealed that Mohammad was water-boarded 183 times.

“Clearly, there is a sense of embarrassment of mistakes that were made … [and] not wanting further embarrassing details to come out,” said James Connell III, attorney for Ali at a press conference Sunday.
Mr. Connell said that Ali’s father died recently, and the rule would pre-empt Ali from delivering a message to his mother.

Although the issues being presided on this week will ultimately affect how future trial proceedings are conducted, it could be years before a trial happens, in part due to the number of motions that have to be considered in court, the majority of them filed by the defense.

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