MIAMI - With the fate of the Guantanamo war court still uncertain, U.S. military defense lawyers Thursday asked a civilian court to halt Pentagon plans to hold a weeklong sanity hearing for an accused Sept. 11 conspirator later this month at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
Army Col. Stephen Henley, a military judge, has scheduled a full week of military commission hearings at Camp Justice Sept. 21-25, starting with alleged Sept. 11 architect Khalid Sheik Mohammed serving as his own attorney.
According to Henley's agenda, he plans to devote the rest of that week to hearing evidence, but likely no ruling, on the question of whether Yemeni Ramzi bin al-Shibh, about 37, is competent to serve as his own lawyer and face trial with Mohammed in the complex conspiracy case.
Shibh, whom the military has been treating with psychotropic medications at Guantanamo, allegedly helped the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers find flight schools in America. He is accused of conspiracy in the mass murder of 2,973 people on Sept. 11, 2001, and the Pentagon prosecutor plans to seek execution.
But his lawyers argued in a 71-page filing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the military war crimes tribunal as currently organized is unconstitutional. They ask the panel to rule that to stage even a pretrial hearing to start assessing their client's mental competency would be premature.
"These cases were never intended to do justice," wrote Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier and Lt. Cmdr. Richard Federico, the Yemeni's Pentagon-appointed defense lawyers. "Instead, what the government has sought, and to date received, is not a legitimate judicial proceeding but a political show trial."
The Obama administration is currently advocating a series of changes to the war court, which was created in response to theSept. 11 attacks, and amendments are being debated by Congress.
The administration has also yet to decide where to prosecute the five men accused of financing, plotting and assisting the 19 hijackers who crashed civilian aircraft into the Pentagon, World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field eight years ago.
The Justice Department, which defends the Pentagon war court in federal courts, had no specific response on Thursday.