GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, appearing for the first time since his capture five years ago, said he would welcome becoming a "martyr" after a judge warned Thursday that he faces the death penalty for his confessed role as mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mohammed seemed noticeably thinner than the image of a slovenly man with disheveled hair, an unshaven face and a T-shirt that the United States showed to the world after his capture in Pakistan.
Mohammed chanted verses from the Koran, rejected his attorneys and told Judge Ralph Kohlmann, a Marine colonel, that he wants to represent himself at the war crimes trial.
The judge warned that he faces execution if convicted of organizing the attacks on America. But the former No. 3 leader of al-Qaida was insistent.
"Yes, this is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time," Mohammed declared.
Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators face death if convicted of war crimes including murder, conspiracy, attacking civilians and terrorism by hijacking planes to attack U.S. landmarks. The murder charges involve the deaths of 2,973 people at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania where passengers forced down their plane.
Their arraignment begins the highest-profile test yet of the military's tribunal system, which faces an uncertain future. The Supreme Court is to rule this month on the rights of Guantanamo prisoners, and could delay or halt the proceedings.
Mohammed seemed calm for the most part, but became upset and denounced the tribunals as unfair after the judge told defense lawyers to be quiet and "sit down!"
"It's an inquisition. It's not a trial," Mohammed said, his voice rising. "After torturing they transfer us to inquisition land in Guantanamo."
Mohammed was repeatedly interrogated by the CIA at secret sites before he was transferred to the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006. His defense has said he may have suffered cognitive impairment from the interrogations, which according to the Bush administration included waterboarding, a technique creates the sensation of drowning by strapping a person down and pouring water over the cloth-covered face.
The other defendants are: Ramzi Binalshibh, said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and al-Qaida leaders; Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, who allegedly selected and trained some of the 19 hijackers; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a nephew and lieutenant of Mohammed; and Waleed bin Attash, who allegedly selected and trained some of the 19 hijackers.