Thursday, June 21, 2018

Accused 9/11 plotters defiant at war court arraignment in Cuba

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators put on a daylong show of defiance at their war court arraignment Saturday, refusing to listen to the proceedings through a headset, then sitting mute rather than answering their U.S. military judge's questions ahead of their trial on charges of planning the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

At no time did the five men enter pleas.

The military judge struggled to get through the basics of starting the clock toward the capital murder trial, provisionally scheduled for a year from now, by unilaterally assigning Pentagon-paid defense attorneys to the five men accused of orchestrating the worst terror attack on U.S. soil.

"Why is this so hard?" the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, declared in exasperation.

The five accused men allegedly trained, advised and financed the 19 hijackers who commandeered airliners and then crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing 2,976 people. All could get the death penalty, if convicted.

The day began with guards carrying alleged 9/11 trainer Walid bin Attash into the maximum-security courtroom at about 9 a.m. strapped into a restraint chair. The judge said guards chose to put the captive in restraints because of his behavior outside the court. There was no additional explanation.

The day concluded about 12 hours later with the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, and other prosecutors reciting the 87-page charge sheet in English — and a translator echoing each paragraph in Arabic because the accused refused to don headphones for simultaneous translation.

In between the men slowed the process by not only accepting each of the judge's offers for three prayer calls that required recesses in the long hearing but by also adding extra prayers in the midst of the proceedings.

The only verbal outburst came from Ramzi Binalshibh, who blurted out at one point that the prison camp leadership was just like Moammar Gadhafi, the slain Libyan dictator.

When the judge tried to hush Binalshibh, explaining the accused would be given a chance to speak later, the Yemeni replied: "Maybe they are going to kill us and say that we are committing suicide."

Also in court were Ammar al Baluchi, also known as Ali Abd al Aziz Ali, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a Saudi national accused of wiring money to the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Saturday's rare war court session was the first appearance of the five men since Jan. 21, 2009, a day after the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Defense lawyers said, alternately, that the men were protesting prison camp interference in the attorney-client relationship, something that happened that morning involving Attash's prosthetic leg during his transfer from his cell to the war court, and their treatment in years of CIA custody prior to their September 2006 arrival at Guantanamo.

"These men have been mistreated," declared civilian Pentagon-paid defense counsel Cheryl Borman, Attash's attorney, who specializes in death penalty cases.

Borman stunned spectators by turning up at the maximum-security compound in a black abaya, cloaking her from head to toe — covering her hair, only her face showing.

Pohl read a script to each of the accused, spelling out each man's right to a Pentagon-paid legal team. He periodically asked each of the men whether he understood what was being said. None replied, so Pohl noted over and over again for the record, "accused refuses to answer."

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