By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 6, 2008 - The chiefs of defense and prosecution offered different views of the day's results to reporters yesterday after five accused terrorists heard the charges filed against them for their alleged role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America at an arraignment here. The judge, Marine Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann, informed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi of the nature of the charges filed against them, which include terrorism, conspiracy, hijacking and murder. Each defendant was served nine referred charges, including two specifications of one of the charges, on May 21.
All five defendants would reject court-appointed defense counsel and elect to represent themselves before the day-long hearing was over.
Kohlmann had tried in vain to convince each of the five defendants that it would be wiser to retain professional counsel, rather than electing to represent themselves during a trial that's expected to begin in mid-September.
Army Col. Steven David, the chief defense counsel, told reporters at a post-arraignment news conference that four of the defendants may have been influenced by Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
It's universally understood in the legal community that defendants are not helping their cases when they choose to represent themselves in a court of law, David pointed out to reporters.
Mohammed was the first of the group to be addressed by Kohlmann at the arraignment, and the accused terrorist also was first to opt to reject his court-appointed lawyers and choose to represent himself.
In court, Mohammed was overheard to have exclaimed to fellow defendant Hawsawi: "What! Are you in the American Army now?" said Army Maj. Jon Jackson, one of Hawsawi's court-appointed military attorneys.
Jackson told reporters it appeared as if Mohammed had intimidated Hawsawi, the last of the defendants to be arraigned.
As the day wore on, it seemed as if the defendants who followed Mohammed marched in lockstep with him, as each chose to be his own attorney at trial. The five men are to be tried jointly, just as they appeared at today's hearing.
Chief prosecutor Army Col. Lawrence Morris emphasized to reporters that the government has to respect the defendants' decision to represent themselves in court.
Morris reminded reporters that the five defendants now in U.S. custody are the people "most responsible for the murder of 2,973 individuals."
Nineteen people in U.S. custody have been charged with crimes under the Military Commissions Act, Morris noted. Today's arraignment was conducted under the auspices of the act.
The Military Commissions Act established procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses that can be tried by military commission, according to a military commissions fact sheet.
The chief prosecutor expressed his confidence in the fitness of the military commissions system as a means to dispense justice.
"As you continue to see, the military commissions process is an orderly, fair, open legal system, remarkably similar to other trials in United States courts," Morris said. "The prosecution team will continue to work diligently to bring all cases to trial in a fair and expeditious manner, consistent with the best practices in both civilian and military courts."