A quintet of 9/11 terror suspects including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed began a series of pretrial motion hearings today at Guantanamo Bay, with one Yemeni suspect complaining to the judge that they don’t have any motivation to come to court each day.
The daylong proceedings, before going into closed session shortly before 3 p.m. Eastern time, focused mostly on lawyer changes — Mohammed added an attorney to his team, while Walid bin Attash wanted to dump counsel, though neither wanted to personally affirm this to the judge — and on questions of which high-security information attorneys would be able to view.
The judge also affirmed that the defendants — KSM, bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi — would not have to be shackled within the courtroom, as there have been “no disruptions from the accused within these four walls.”
Both the judge and defense attorneys strongly questioned a 40-second delay at one point on the feed to reporters, stating there was no obvious need to conceal what was happening in court at that moment. Journalists are subject to an interrupted or muted feed if sensitive information comes up in court.
The prosecution said it would lay out its justification in closed session, though the judge said there needs to be “a little conversation about who turns that light on or off.”
Clad in a camouflage jacket over his white thobe and occasionally touching his long, orange-colored beard (which the Pentagon says is the result of a dye job with berries from his breakfast and other “natural ingredients”), the man accused of masterminding the 9/11 terrorist attacks and confessor to beheading journalist Daniel Pearl had no outburst today as he did in his October hearing.
When asked if he understood his rights to be present or absent from court, barring certain sessions when attendance would be compelled, Mohammed simply affirmatively answered, “Na’am.”
Bin Attash answered that he understood his rights, but had some complaints when the judge asked if he had any questions.
“We don’t have any motivating factors that would invite us to come to the court,” said bin Attash, a Yemeni former assistant to Osama bin Laden who stands accused of training Sept. 11 hijackers and seeking intelligence on U.S. airline security. He is also accused of financing the 2000 attack on the USS Cole and assisting in planning the 1998 U.S. Embassy attack in Kenya.
Bin Attash’s attorney, non-Muslim Chicago lawyer Cheryl Bormann, was clad in a black abaya out of deference to her client. Bormann has asked in the past that other women in the courtroom similarly cover up so as not to distract the defendant, but one woman at the prosecution table today wore a military-issue skirt and none of the women covered their hair.
“We have been dealing with our attorneys for about a year and half and we haven’t been able to build any trust with them,” complained bin Attash, who earlier refused to speak with the judge and wanted to request the dismissal of one of his attorneys through Bormann.
“There is nothing that would motivate us to come… we don’t want this to be a personal issue between us and the judge,” continued the terror suspect, who was captured in Karachi in 2003 aged in his mid-20s. “But I want you to understand the situation we are in — the government does not want us to hear or understand or say anything and they don’t want our attorneys to do anything.”
One of the issues expected to be addressed in the hearings is a defense argument that government restrictions prevent their clients from talking about their alleged torture at the hands of the U.S.
Mohammed and his co-defendants have hearings Jan. 28-31 and Feb. 11-14. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, alleged mastermind of the USS Cole attack, is scheduled to appear in court from Feb. 4-7.
These cases are the ones before the Guantanamo tribunal that carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Stay tuned to PJM for ongoing coverage of the Guantanamo tribunals