By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT MEADE, Md., Jan. 28, 2013 – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, along with four co-defendants charged with planning and carrying out the attacks, acknowledged to the judge today that they understand and have no questions about their rights.
Army Col. James Pohl, the judge, opened four days of pretrial hearings at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, affirming that the defendants understand they have the right to attend the proceedings and may voluntarily skip most proceedings. In outlining the rights, Pohl also made clear that opting out of court could hurt the defense, while recognizing that the accused could be compelled to come to court when specific issues are discussed.
Pohl asked each defendant -- Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi -- to affirm that they understand these rights.
Bin Attash, the only defendant to offer more than a simple “Yes,” told Pohl he and his fellow defendants have “no motivating factors to come to court.” He complained that the prosecution does not want the defendants to hear or understand what is going on or to speak during the proceedings.
Bin Attash also expressed frustration that after a year and a half of association, the defendants have not established trust in the attorneys involved. “The attorneys are bound, but we are bound also,” he told the court.
Much of today’s discussions involved whether the prosecution and defense teams need to go into a closed session to discuss what issues they can address in open court. That includes one of the most controversial aspects of the hearing: information about the defendants’ detention at so-called “black sites” operated by the CIA before they were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay facility.
Portions of the proceedings were blocked out by loud static to keep the statements out of the public record. This also prevented the audio from being heard by families of 9/11 victims at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and watching via closed-circuit television here and at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; Fort Hamilton, N.Y.; and Fort Devens, Mass.
Reporters covering the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay and from a media center at Fort Meade also heard the static.
This led Pohl to question during the hearing who has a right to turn on a light that generates the static sound and also institutes a 40-second delay in the audio feed. After closing today’s opening session, he brought together the prosecution and defense teams to work through these issues.
All five defendants at today’s hearing were captured in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003 and have been confined at Guantanamo Bay since 2006. They were charged during their arraignment in May 2012 with terrorism, conspiracy, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, murder in violation of the law of war, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft.
This round of commission hearings will continue through Jan. 31, with the next slated for Feb. 11 to 14.
Today’s hearings began three days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul of Yemen. The court ruled that the charges of conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism and soliciting murder did not qualify as war crimes when Bahlul committed them.
A military commission found him guilty of conspiracy with Osama bin Laden and others to commit murder of protected persons, attacking civilians and other crimes in November 2008. He was also found guilty of solicitation to commit murder of protected persons, to attack civilian objects, and to commit acts of terrorism.
In addition, the commission found him guilty of providing material support for terrorism by supporting al-Qaida through meeting with the highest-ranking members of the organization and creating al-Qaida propaganda, including a widely distributed propaganda video, “The Destruction of the American Destroyer U.S.S. Cole.” All offenses were in violation of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
He was sentenced to life in prison.