- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba | Two of the five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks offered unapologetic admissions of guilt Monday in a sometimes chaotic - and possibly final - session of the Guantanamo war crimes court.

The hearings, scheduled over several days, could be the last at Guantanamo, since President-elect Barack Obama has said he would close the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba and many expect him to suspend the military tribunals and order new trials in the U.S.

The New York Times reported Monday that in the past three months, at least 24 detainees have been declared improperly held by courts or a tribunal - or nearly 10 percent of the population at the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, where about 245 men remain.

During Monday’s hearing, Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed architect of the terrorist attacks, casually admitted guilt during a series of outbursts as the translators struggled to keep up and the judge repeatedly sought to regain control.

“We did what we did; we’re proud of September 11,” Mr. Binalshibh declared at one point in proceedings that dealt with a number of legal issues, including whether he is mentally competent to stand trial on charges that carry a potential death sentence.

Mr. Mohammed, who is representing himself, switched back and forth between Arabic and English, insisting at one point that a uniformed military lawyer assigned to assist him be removed from his defense table. The man, he said, represents the “people who tortured me.”

Mr. Mohammed shrugged off the potential death sentence he faces for charges that include the murder of nearly 3,000 people in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We don’t care about capital punishment,” he said. “We are doing jihad for the cause of God.”

In a separate hearing, a judge was holding pretrial hearings in the case of Canadian Omar Khadr, who is accused of killing a U.S. soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, N.M., with a grenade during a battle in Afghanistan in 2002 when the Toronto native was 15.

In both cases, the judges were considering whether the Pentagon must charge and arraign the men all over again after it withdrew and refiled charges in about 20 cases. The Pentagon described the refiling as a procedural step required to appoint new military jury panel members.

The judges sided with the prosecutors and ruled the cases would not have to start anew.

One judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley, acknowledged doubts about the future of the hearings, saying one legal matter could be addressed “at later sessions, if later sessions are scheduled.”

Lawyers and representatives of human rights groups who came to observe the hearings said they expect Mr. Obama to suspend the military commission system created by Congress and President Bush in 2006.

The Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said he did not know what the Obama administration would do and had to plan as if the commissions would go forward. Still, prosecutors joined with the defense in asking military judges to postpone this week’s hearings until after the inauguration. The judges rejected the request.


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