GUANTANAMO BAY: After nearly four years since he was last in court, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 plot Khalid Shaikh Mohammad was brought before a military commission along with four co-accused and charged in an arraignment hearing that lasted close to 13 hours.
Nine years after his arrest, he appeared alongside co-accused Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al Aziz Ali and Walid Bin Attash, for their arraignment hearing.
After a lengthy voir dire between the judge and the defense lawyers, Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martin read out a brief recap of what they were being charged with, including terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy and murder in violation of the law of war. On Bin Attash’s insistence, his length of charges were read out after a 30 minute recess. The judge also announced that the next arraignment hearing would be on June 12.
When asked by Judge Pohl about a trial date, prosecution said they would be ready for the trial by August this year. However, the lawyers for the accused said that they would require more time.
To protest torture, accused adopt silence
Khalid Shaikh Mohammad (KSM) appeared in court, clad in white, with his beard dyed red and a turban on his head. He has not been seen in the courtroom since 2008. From the outset, KSM and his lawyer made it apparent of their lack of faith in the commission. David Nevin, KSM’s lawyer, said that his client would not reply back to the judge since KSM was concerned about the fairness of the trial, the torture they had faced, and the treatment that they received when even as they were being brought to the courtroom. KSM took off his earphones, but appeared to be listening when other lawyers presented their arguments.
During the voir dire, Nevin asked Judge Pohl if he had read any material on 9/11? The judge said that he had read former FBI agent Ali Soufan’s book The Black Banners, and ten pages of the 9/11 commission report. The judge though refused to answer what his religion was when asked by Nevin. In response to a question, Judge Pohl said that he had never presided over a capital case yet.
The defence lawyers added that they were not even allowed by Guantanamo authorities to give their clients the clothing that they had requested.
One of the accused, Walid Bin Attash was brought to the courtroom in restraints. Judge Col. James Pohl, while addressing Attash’s lawyer, said that Attash has been brought in restraints because he refused to come to the court from his holding cell.
Attash’s lawyer Captain Michael Schwartz argued that his client was in pain, and asked for the restraints to be removed. Attash, like KSM, also refused to answer the judge when he was asked if he could hear
him. However, the judge allowed for his restraints to be removed after his lawyer assured that his client would not misbehave during the court proceedings.
Walid bin Attash’s lawyer Cheryl Bormann however raised fears of her client’s safety, who had already been brought to court in restraints. She alleged that Bin Attash had scars on his arms that were inflicted by JTF-GTMO guards. While the CCTV feed did not show it, Bin Attash tried to lift his shirt to show off his scars. The judge forbade him from doing so.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammad’s lawyer David Nevin then told the court that KSM and the co-accused were subjected to strip searches before coming to court, and that he would be filing a motion against it.
James Harrington, the lawyer for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, said that his client was facing some sort of administrative punishment. As a result, Harrington said, his client had restricted access to legal documents.
At approximately 10 AM Guantanamo time, as proceedings were underway, Ramzi Bin al Shibh began praying in court. Soon after, Ammar al Baluchi, KSM’s nephew, was also seen praying in the courtroom.
After the accused refused to respond to the judge, Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Martins offered to bring in a translator who would do consecutive translations in Arabic, which was granted by the court.
However, KSM’s lawyer said he would refuse to speak to the court even after interpreters were brought in.
While the judge read out the counsel rights for the accused, all five refused to reply back to the judge.
A ‘Muammar Qaddafi’ in Guantanamo
While the defense lawyers were presenting their qualifications to the judge, accused Ramzi Bin Al Shibh broke his silence and began shouting in English. He said that they have a Muamar Qadaffi in the jail. “Maybe you are not going to see me anymore.”
When the judge said that that would be his choice, Ramzi replied “its not about my choice, it’s the threat we have received at camp. Maybe they are going to kill us at the camp and say we committed suicide.”
Wear hijab, lest we sin
In another twist in the day’s proceedings, when Bin Attash’s lawyer, Cheryl Bormann appeared in court clad in an abaya and headscarf, she requested that prosecution lawyers dress as appropriately, since her client could not make eye contact with the prosecution team, lest he might commit a sin.
9/11 victims’ families want death for alleged plotters
Also present in the courtroom to watch the proceedings were family members of 9/11 victims, along with members of the media.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, 9/11 victims’ family members expressed their satisfaction of the hearing being conducted at Guantanamo Bay.
Cliff Russell, who had lost his brother, a fireman, when the World Trade Center collapsed, said that he wanted the accused to be awarded the death penalty.
Tara Henwood, who too had lost her brother in WTC, said, “I expect justice. I have every faith that the military commission will do their job.”
The hearing’s CCTV footage was also broadcast at seven locations on US military bases across the US, where, amongst others, first responders of 9/11 saw the day’s proceedings.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al Aziz Ali and Walid Bin Attash have been accused of conspiring, planning and helping to execute the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. They all face the death penalty.