- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba | U.S. military officers responsible for defending Guantanamo detainees said they will investigate why five men accused in the Sept. 11 attacks were allowed to talk among themselves at their arraignment, purportedly pressuring one of the defendants to reject his attorneys.

All five said they would represent themselves in the death penalty trial, the first U.S. attempt to prosecute those believed to be directly responsible for killing 2,973 people in the bloodiest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

None entered pleas, and two said they hope to become martyrs for their anti-American cause.

Attorneys for Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi complained he was pressured by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former third-ranking al Qaeda leader and purported mastermind of the 2001 attacks.

“It was clear Mr. Mohammed was trying to intimidate Mr. Hawsawi,” said Army Maj. Jon Jackson, his lead military attorney. “He was shaking.”

Maj. Jackson complained to the judge after an interpreter overheard other defendants asking Mr. al-Hawsawi questions like, “So, you’re in the Army now?”

Mr. al-Hawsawi, who purportedly helped Sept. 11 hijackers prepare for the attacks with money and Western-style clothing, looked thin and frail as he sat on a pillow on his chair. The others appeared to be in robust health.

Chief military defense counsel Stephen David, an Army colonel, said it’s troubling that the purported coconspirators were allowed to talk unhindered in their first meeting since they were captured years ago.

“We will have to investigate,” Col. David said.

Army Col. Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor, said his office was not responsible for controlling when defendants talk to each other, but that “the government is as concerned as the defense” about the issue.

Thursday’s arraignment at this isolated U.S. Navy base marked Mr. Mohammed’s first appearance since his capture in Pakistan in 2003. Noticeably thinner and wearing prison-issue glasses, a turban and a bushy, gray beard, he appeared starkly different from the slovenly man with disheveled hair, unshaven face and T-shirt in the widely distributed capture photo.

Judge Ralph Kohlmann warned Mr. Mohammed he faces the death penalty if convicted of organizing the attacks on America. But the accused mastermind of the terrorist attacks said he can’t accept U.S. lawyers - only Islamic Shariah law - and would welcome being executed.

“This is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time,” Mr. Mohammed said. “I will, God willing, have this, by you.”

Ramzi Binalshibh, the purported main intermediary between the 19 hijackers and al Qaeda leaders, responded similarly: “If this martyrdom happens today, I welcome it. God is great. God is great. God is great.”

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