GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The U.S. military tribunal that is hearing pre-trial motions in the case of the accused 9/11 plotters is slated to address a contentious issue during Wednesday's proceedings — rat feces.
Health experts for government prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to testify about conditions in work spaces occupied by the defense, which has claimed that mold, rodents and rat feces have made the areas unsafe.
The tribunal already has denied a request by defense attorneys' for a delay in future proceedings until the problems are resolved. The attorneys filed a new request this week.
Defense attorneys, some of whom are military personnel, said at least three of their members have suffered respiratory problems and other ailments requiring hospital visits and medication because of the conditions in their work spaces.
They are representing accused 9/11 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.
This week, the defense teams released color photocopies of walls and air vents speckled with what appears to be mold, rat feces and a small crab skeleton in the work spaces. Six dead also rats were found in the spaces, the attorneys said.
Two Navy defense lawyers went to the hospital during the last round of pre-trial hearings in August due to the poor air quality in the work spaces, they said.
"Are we really subjecting our service members to this? The answer is yes. It's unfortunate," said Army Capt. Jason Wright, a defense attorney for Mohammed who said this issue dates back to September 2011.
"We're very concerned about the health of our service members who have been asked by their government to perform this duty. People have gotten sick. This building has been previously deemed inhabitable, and this matter deserves consideration," Capt. Wright said Tuesday. "One senior officer required medical treatment, as of last night."
The attorneys say they have moved to different work areas twice and now work in a trailer that does not have enough computers and printers for everyone, and still has mold.
A relative of a victim of the 9/11 attacks rolled her eyes in disbelief when asked about the defense attorneys' complaints.
"Again?" said Merrilly Noeth, who lost her son, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Allen Noeth, 30, in the attack on the Pentagon. She traveled to the naval base from New York.
Victims' families say they are tired of delays, which have pushed a trial date further away.
This week's proceedings had been scheduled to begin in August but were postponed a day due to a train derailment in Maryland that affected Internet service at Guantanamo.
The hearings were further delayed due to a tropical storm that threatened the island.
Prosecutors have conducted an investigation of the work spaces that found the areas are habitable.
"The focus of this trial can thus remain, as it should, on the guilt or innocence of the accused and not on counsel accommodations. Again, while taking seriously the genuine needs of counsel to fulfill their professional responsibilities, the quality of justice is not determined by physical trappings," chief prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said in a statement this week.
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