Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others appear before military court facing 2,976 charges of murder over 9/11 terror attacks.
Chris McGreal at Fort Meade
Sheikh Mohammed has been accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. The
prosecution is seeking the death penalty for the accused.
The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other accused terrorists disrupted the first stage of their trial on charges of terrorism and mass murder at a Guantánamo Bay military court on Saturday by refusing to acknowledge the judge.
men, one of whom was brought to the arraignment hearing strapped to a
restraining chair after refusing to attend, dropped their previous
insistence on pleading guilty and demanding to be executed in favour of
refusing to answer the judge's questions as their lawyers repeatedly
challenged the legitimacy of the court.Mohammed's lawyer
attempted to raise the issue of torture, saying that "the world is
watching" after the US government admitted to waterboarding the accused
terrorist 183 times. But the military judge refused to permit
discussion.Another defence lawyer, James Connell, called the
military court a "blight on America's international reputation and her
commitment to the rule of law."Mohammed and his co-accused –
Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and
Walid bin Attash – face charges of 2,976 counts of murder for each of
the victims who died on 9/11, as well as accusations of terrorism,
hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property.The prosecution is seeking the death penalty for all of the men.
a similar hearing in 2008, Mohammed mocked the court and tried to plead
guilty, saying he wanted to be put to death as a martyr, but the US
supreme court later struck down the rules of evidence and the trial was
called off. He has also previously compared himself to George Washington
and demanded to be treated as a combatant, not a terrorist.But
defence lawyers on Saturday suggested that the accused men would this
time choose not to plead. Instead, in their first public appearance in
more than three years, they refused to participate in the occasionally
chaotic one-day hearing.Early in the proceedings, the accused removed their headphones.
Mohammed's lawyer, David Nevin, said it was because of his treatment while in detention.
"The reason he's not putting the headphones in his ears is because of the torture imposed on him," he said.
Nevin asked to be allowed to elaborate but the judge, Colonel James Pohl, refused to let him.
said that if the men refused to participate in proceedings then in due
course a plea of not guilty would be entered on their behalf."One cannot choose not to participate and frustrate the normal course of business," he said.
issue of torture has badly tainted the military tribunal, which is the
second attempt to put the men on trial after the US supreme court
blocked an earlier trial over protection of the accused's rights.The chief military prosecutor, Brigadier-General Mark Martins, urged critics to give the tribunal a chance.
"I'm confident that this court can achieve justice and fairness," he said. "This is a system worthy of the nation's confidence."
accused men generally sat quietly, dressed entirely in white clothes
and turbans they were required to wear by their military jailers. But
one of them, Bin al-Shibh, interrupted proceedings by shouting,
comparing the Guantánamo prison to life under the former Libyan
dictator, Muammar Gaddafi."Era of Gaddafi is over, but you have
Gaddafi in (Guantánamo) camp. Maybe they are going to kill us and say
that we are committing suicide," he said.Most of the disruption,
albeit procedural, came from the defence lawyers, who conducted what
appeared to be a coordinated challenge to the credibility of the court.Nevin
repeatedly tried to bring up the issue of the torture of Mohammed's
torture while he was in CIA custody. Then the lawyers raised a slew of
issues as they were asked to take the oath to represent their clients.One
said he could not take such an oath and would only swear to do his best
because of the severe restrictions on access to the accused, including
having what he said should be confidential conversations monitored by
the military.Anything the accused men say to their lawyer can be
used by the prosecution in court. Another lawyer protested at the lack
of a translator to be able to talk to his client.The judge came back that if they lawyers didn't swear, then they could not be counsel in the case.
"It's like being pregnant – you either take the oath or you don't," he said.
only female defence lawyer, Cheryl Bormann, asked the judge to order
female members of prosecution to cover themselves up "so that our
clients are not forced to not look at the prosecution for fear of
committing a sin under their faith". Bormann was wearing an abaya. Some
of the women in court were wearing skirts. Relatives of those who
died in the 9/11 attacks welcomed the fact that more than a decade
later the organisers are finally to face justice. Among the relatives of
the dead watching the proceedings at Guantanamo was Cliff Russell whose
brother, a firefighter, was killed in the World Trade Center. "I wish
the worst possible death for them," he said. "I'm not looking forward to
ending someone else's life and taking satisfaction in it, but it's the
most disgusting, hateful, awful thing I ever could think of if you think
about what was perpetrated."Tara Henwood Butzbaugh, whose brother was working on the 105th floor of one of the towers when the planes hit, echoed the call.
"Death," she said. "Nothing less."
Blake Allison, whose wife was on the first plane to hit the towers,
said he was opposed to the death penalty for the accused men."It's not a productive or appropriate way to resolve something," he said. "It just perpetuates the idea of needing revenge."
Defence lawyers promised a lengthy fight.
is only the beginning of a trial that will take years to complete,
followed by years of appellate review," said Connell. "I can't imagine
any scenario where this thing gets wrapped up in six months."
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