Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants charged in the 9/11 terror attacks were back before a military judge in Guantanamo today, and the proceedings bore little resemblance to their last, chaotic appearance in the courtroom on May 5.
As family members of the 9/11 victims watched, all five defendants, who were dressed in white, sat quietly except when answering direct questions posed by the judge, Col. James Pohl. Admitted 9/11 mastermind Mohammed, sporting a long, henna-dyed red beard, read legal papers. Today was the first day of hearings expected to last through the week.
Five months ago, an arraignment expected to last several hours dragged on for 13, as the defendants took off their headsets, refused to answer questions from the judge and stood up to engage in prayer. Defendant Ramzi Binalshibh began ranting, and another defendant was brought into the courtroom in a restraint chair.
On Monday, the defendants enjoyed several legal victories, including the right to skip the rest of the week's proceedings. The prosecution had filed a motion requesting that the defendants be required to attend all hearings. Judge Pohl ruled that, for this week at least, attendance is not mandatory.
"The accused can, prior to assembly, choose voluntarily not to attend a session of the commission as long as . . . he understands his right to be present and what his options may or may not mean," ruled Pohl. The judge will also provide a sheet disclosing their rights that must be read to the accused in their cells if they elect to skip future sessions.
Later Col. Pohl individually read each of the defendants the options on the waiver form. The defendants replied in the affirmative either in English or through English translation. Most were puzzled by the part in the waiver that indicated the proceedings could take place if they were no longer under U.S. military control at Guantanamo.
Pohl had to explain to them the "unlikely" hypothetical that if they were to escape out of U.S. military control the military commission would still continue in their absence. The defendants agreed with this after it was explained to them.
When it was Mohammed's turn, he said through a translator, "Yes, but I don't think there's any justice in this court."
Earlier, the defense had moved that an additional civilian counsel be allowed to represent defendant Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, a Saudi who allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks. Col. Pohl granted the motion after Hawsawi indicated that he wanted the attorney. In May, Hawsawi had stared straight ahead and refused to answer when Col. Pohl asked the same question.
Pohl also granted a defense motion that a military lawyer who had once represented Binalshibh be allowed to join Hawsawi's defense team. Pohl ruled that the attorney could represent Hawsawi, provided she did not share what she had learned while representing Binalshibh.
Outside observers were most interested in a motion that will likely be heard tomorrow. The ACLU is attempting to block a "protective order" that would prevent the revelation of classified details gathered during the defendants' CIA interrogations. The ACLU argues that the restriction will keep the public from learning about the conditions of the defendants' captivity, including torture.
"What we are challenging is the censorship of the defendants' testimony based on their personal knowledge of the government's torture and detention of them," ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi told the Associated Press.
Five 9/11 victims' family members chosen via lottery and their five invited guests attended Monday's hearings in Guantanamo. Victims' families are also eligible to watch via closed-circuit television at locations in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, but a Pentagon spokesman said that only four family members were watching today's proceedings. The four family members were watching the proceedings at Fort Hamilton, New York.