Nine years after his arrest, the alleged plotter of the 9/11 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammad appeared with four other co-accused before a military commission hearing to be arraigned in the case, but maintained, save one exception, a stony silence.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the co-accused Ramzi bin al Shibh, Mustafa Ahmad al Hawsawi, Ali Abd al Aziz Ali and Walid bin Attash refused to talk to the judge as a form of protest.
Clad in white, Khalid Sheikh’s beard was dyed a shade of reddish brown and was wearing a turban. He has not been seen in the courtroom since 2008.
His attorney David Nevin said that his client would not reply back to the judge since Khalid Sheikh was concerned about the fairness of the trial, the torture they faced, and the treatment that they received when they were being brought to the courtroom. Khalid Sheikh took off his earphones, but appeared to be listening when other lawyers were making their arguments.
The clients’ lawyers also said that they were not allowed by the Guantanamo authorities to give their clients the clothing that they had requested for.
At the time of filing this report, the court proceedings were still under way. Khalid Sheikh and the co-accused were yet to be charged.
Walid bin Attash was brought to the courtroom in restraints. Judge Col James Pohl, while addressing Attash’s lawyer, said that his client was brought in restraints because he refused to come to the court from the holding cell.
Attash’s lawyer Captain Michael Schwartz said his client was in pain, and asked for the restraints to be removed. Attash also refused to answer the judge when he was asked if he could hear him. His restraints were removed after his lawyer said he would not misbehave in the court proceedings. A reporter inside the courtroom said Attash was brought in without his prosthetic leg, a guard brought it in later and fitted it on him.
During the proceedings, Ramzi bin al Shibh began praying in court. Soon after, Ammar alBaluchi was seen praying in the courtroom as well. 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, Khalid Sheikh’s lawyer said he would refuse to speak to the court even after the interpreters were brought in.
While the judge read out the counsel rights for the accused, all five refused to reply back to the judge. They were seen reading magazines and books during the court proceedings, but talked to each other before the proceedings began and during the recess.
While the defence lawyers were presenting their qualifications to the judge, Ramzi bin al Shibh broke his silence and began shouting in English. He said that they have a Muammar Qaddafi in the jail.
“Maybe you are not going to see me anymore,” he said. When the judge said that that would be his choice, he said, “It’s 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.”
In another twist in the day’s proceedings, Attash’s lawyer Cheryl Bormann appeared in the court clad in an abaya and headscarf, and requested that prosecution lawyers dress appropriately, as her client could not make eye contact with the prosecution team lest he commit a sin.
During the voir dire, Khalid Sheikh’s lawyer asked Judge Pohl if he had read any material on 9/11, the judge said he had read former FBI agent Ali Soufan’s book ‘The Black Banners’, and ten pages of the 9/11 commission report. The judge also refused to answer what his religion was when asked by Nevin. In response to a question, Judge Pohl said he had never presided over a capital case yet.
Also present in the courtroom were families of the 9/11 victims, along with members of the media. Speaking to reporters on Friday, the families expressed satisfaction that the hearing was taking place at Guantanamo Bay.
Cliff Russell, who lost his brother, a fireman, at World Trade Center, said that he wanted the accused to get the death penalty. Tara Henwood, who 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 alShibh, Mustafa Ahmad alHawsawi, Ali Abdal Aziz Ali aka Ammar alBaluhi and Walid bin Attash have been accused of conspiring, planning and helping to execute the attacks on September 11, 2001. They face the death penalty, if found guilty.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.