Defendants in military tribunal over 9/11 attacks set to return to court

Here and Now

Five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks, including the self-proclaimed mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are headed back to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay Saturday, more than three years after President Barack Obama put the case on hold.

Obama had wanted to move the proceedings to a civilian court and close the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba. The actual tria is not expected to begin for more than a year, but Friday’s arraignment will be the first step down that road. A handful of people who lost family in the attacks will be in the audience for the hearing.

Mohammed, who told military authorities that he was responsible for the planning of the terror assault “from A to Z,” previously mocked the tribunal and said he would welcome the death penalty. His co-defendant, Ramzi Binalshibh, told the court that he was proud of the attacks. But Binalshibh’s lawyer told the AP he didn’t think any of the men would plead guilty at the arraignment. After the arraignment, the defense attorneys are expected to make procedural motions as well.

Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for The Miami Herald, who is in Cuba for the hearing, said attorneys will debate not so much what will be heard at trial, but what will be released publicly.

“It’s not that people in the court and possibly the jury down the road won’t hear what the CIA did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other four accused. The ACLU and other attorneys want the American people to be able to hear it as well,” Rosenberg said.

The court in Guantanamo is setup to be able to block spectators from hearing information that is deemed classified by government officials. The CIA still considers that secret, and the intelligence agent monitoring the proceedings, unless directed otherwise by the court, would block the spectators from hearing the description.

“The lawyers who are contesting that say the American people should hear all of it. They say they should hear what these men are accused of doing and what they say happened to them in the three years it took to get them to Guantanamo,” Rosenberg said.

Some 60 reporters in total are expected to cover the trial.

One of the questions the trial will try to answer is whether the evidence that has been gathered, like Mohammed’s confession of planning the Sept. 11 attacks and other incidents, were gathered using torture or coercion. Under new rules, evidence gathered using method that would be considered torture or coercive may not be heard by the jury, Rosenberg said.

“All of those admissions came after CIA custody and 183 rounds of water-boarding,” Rosenberg said. “The real tension is where’s the truth of it, and what will the jury get to hear, and what will he tell them when he gets a chance to speak.”

Another question to be answered is whether the defendants even accept their attorneys. They’re new since the last time the defendants were in court.

The lawyers haven’t spoken much publicly because they’re not sure the defendants will accept them, but when they have spoken, they’ve said at least a couple of their clients may not have had any idea about the attack until after it happened — but rather only played minor roles in a larger conspiracy they weren’t aware of.

“There’s a certain tension. Will they all five come in and say ‘we did it and we’re proud of it and we want to die”? We really don’t know and that’s what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Rosenberg said.

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