By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2008 - Three of five defendants accused of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America rejected court-appointed legal counsel early on during their arraignment here today. Khalid Sheikh Mohammand, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin Attash and Ramzi bin al-Shibh told military commission judge Marine Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann that they don't want U.S. military lawyers to represent them at trial.
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi also are slated to be told today of the nature of the charges 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.
The arraignment is held under the auspices of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The act establishes 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 commission fact sheet.
The defendants voluntarily attended today's arraignment.
Kohlmann told the defendants they'd be asked to choose their attorneys, court-appointed or otherwise. Mohammed currently is represented by Navy Capt. Prescott Prince and other detailed defense attorneys provided free of charge by the U.S. government. Mohammed could be represented by civilian lawyers at no expense to the U.S. government, the judge said.
Mohammed then recited a loud prayer, some of which was translated as: "There is no God ... but Him."
"What you're saying is not responding to my question," Kohlmann told Mohammed, after inquiring about the defendant's choice of counsel.
"I'm going to cut you off at some point; I can't just let you go on for an indefinite period," Kohlmann said to Mohammed.
"I don't think I've crossed my red line. ... Please be patient with me for a little while," Mohammed said to Kohlmann. "I will represent myself."
Mohammed then recited more prayers.
"You do not want to be represented by any attorney?" Kohlmann asked Mohammed.
"That's right," Mohammed responded.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, believed to have proposed the operational concept to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as early as 1996. He is accused of obtaining approval and funding from bin Laden for the attacks, overseeing the entire operation and training the hijackers in all aspects of the operation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin Attash allegedly administered an al-Qaida training camp in Logar, Afghanistan, where two of the Sept. 11 hijackers were trained.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh allegedly lived with the Hamburg, Germany, al-Qaida cell where three of the Sept. 11 hijackers resided. It is alleged that bin Laden originally chose Shibh to be one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, but he was unable to obtain a U.S. visa, and therefore couldn't enter the United States to participate in the attacks. He allegedly assisted in finding flight schools for the hijackers in the United States and engaged in various financial transactions in support of the attacks.
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali allegedly sent about $120,000 to the hijackers for their expenses and flight training tuition. He also allegedly helped nine hijackers travel to the United States.
Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi allegedly assisted and prepared the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler's checks and credit cards. He also allegedly facilitated the transfer of thousands of dollars between the accounts of the hijackers and himself on Sept. 11, 2001.
During the arraignment, Kohlmann told Mohammed he can't mount a joint-defense effort with another defendant in the case. Self-representation is an option, but it isn't a good idea, Kohlmann said to Mohammed.
Thomas A. Durkin, Shibh's civilian attorney, stood up to make a point, but was told to sit down by Kohlmann.
Kohlmann then turned to Mohammed, saying, "Do you understand the changes against you in this proceeding?" Mohammed is charged with capital crimes, Kohlmann noted. If Mohammed is found guilty, the commission could sentence him to death, the judge pointed out.
Mohammed said he understood what the judge was saying.
"I've been looking to be martyred for a long time," Mohammed remarked.
"We cannot accept any American citizen to represent us," Mohammed explained, because U.S. military forces are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Military lawyers participating in military commission proceedings must be qualified attorneys, Kohlmann pointed out. These attorneys also must pass a security clearance check, he added.
Mohammed said he is seeking religious representation because, he claimed, the United States has waged a religious war against Middle Eastern Muslims.
Kohlmann said he is compelled to advise Mohammed that it is best to have professional legal counsel. Professional lawyers have an objective view of the proceedings, Kohlmann said.
Mohammed said his English "is not bad" and that he could represent himself in court. He acknowledged his defense attorneys have told him it is not a good idea for him to represent himself.
"I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to represent yourself," Kohlmann said to Mohammed.
Mohammed asked if defense counsel could remain at his table and explain legalities to him. Kohlmann said Mohammed may later reconsider his decision to represent himself.
"This is [an] inquisition; it's not [a] trial," Mohammed said, noting Shibh's lawyer was told to sit down by the judge earlier in the proceedings. Mohammed declared that he was tortured and then transferred to Guantanamo.
Mohammed's lawyers then requested a moment to consult with their client.
Kohlmann said he understood that Mohammed has elected to represent himself and he would be provided advice by standby military defense counsel. Kohlmann said he hopes that Mohammed changes his mind about the matter.
Mohammed said he could change his mind later.
Kohlmann then informed Attash about his right to legal counsel.
"I want him not to be with me," Attash said of his court-appointed lawyer, "I don't want anyone to represent me at this session; I will represent myself."
Kohlmann observed there has been some courtroom conversation between Mohammed and Attash. Attash said he understood the charges filed against him and that he also realized that if found guilty he could be sentenced to death.
Kohlmann found that Mohammed and Attash understood the charges filed against them and they've voluntarily decided to represent themselves in court. The judge said the defendants' detailed counsel would stay to provide legal advice.
Kohlmann declared a recess for today's noon meal and scheduled Muslim prayer time at 3 p.m.
Durkin, Shibh's civilian attorney, told Kohlmann that Shibh distrusts U.S. military personnel and that his client also rejects court-appointed counsel as well as the authority of an American court to try him. Durkin requested a continuance of the arraignment.
"I think we need more time to consult with him," Durkin said of his client, adding he also understands that Shibh is on medication.
Kohlmann denied Durkin's request for a continuance of the arraignment. The proceedings were recessed to be continued later in the afternoon.
Earlier in the hearing, Kohlmann asked each of the accused if they required translators. All said that they would.
Defense counsel David Nevin said he has a concern regarding Mohammed's translator. Choosing translators is a difficult decision for his client to make, Nevin said, noting he had had only five hours to meet with his client, so far. Durkin raised the same issue about his client, Shibh.
Kohlmann replied that information presented to defendants is pretty straightforward, implying the translation should be sufficient to convey that. The judge also was asked by one of the translators to slow down his speaking so that simultaneous translation could occur.
The five accused terrorists will be tried jointly, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal advisor to the convening authority in the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions, told reporters yesterday during a news conference here.
"The Department of Defense is reminding all of us that fair, just and transparent hearings in these cases is the No. 1 legal services priority of the entire Department of Defense," Hartmann said.