9/11 suspects ignore, disrupt arraignment
By the CNN Wire Staff
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (CNN) – Silence and the odd outburst from accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others resulted in delays during their arraignment Saturday in Guantanamo Bay.
A hearing before a military judge that could have lasted minutes instead stretched into hours.
Court was still going strong Saturday night, when the charges against the five suspects were being read.
It was Mohammed and four others’ first appearance in a military courtroom since being charged a month ago.
Along with Mohammed, the others are Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi.
The men are charged with terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury and destruction of property in violation of the law of war.
The silence from the defendants — some ignored the judge and others appeared to be reading — slowed the proceedings to a crawl.
Bin ‘Attash was brought in, in restraints, after initially refusing to come to court. The restraints were later removed.
Toward the end of the day, he apparently took off his shirt while his attorney was describing injuries she alleged he sustained while in custody.
The judge instructed Bin ‘Attash, “No!” and warned the defendant he would be taken out of the courtroom if he did not follow directions. He did, and court resumed.
At another point, Bin ‘Attash made a paper airplane and placed it on top of a microphone. It was removed after a translator complained about the sound the airplane made.
The judge, Col. James Pohl, needed the five to confirm their desires to be represented by the attorneys who accompanied them. Because no one answered, Pohl had to go one-by-one and appoint military lawyers for them.
Earlier, the silence caused an issue with the court translations.
Mohammed’s lawyer said that his client “will decline to communicate with the court.”
Because they wouldn’t speak, the judge could not confirm that the defendants could hear the translation of the proceedings. Time elapsed while they set up loudspeakers in the court to carry the translations. Some lawyers objected to this solution, too, and translation remained a problem at the outset of the hearing.
Pohl said he would enter a not guilty plea on Mohammed’s behalf if he refused to enter a plea.
Two of the defendants, Bin ‘Attash and Binalshibh, started praying in the court.
The defendants’ silence was finally broken hours into the hearing by Binalshibh, who shouted in heavily accented English: “You may not see us anymore,” he said. “They are going to kill us.”
The outburst was short and the judge proceeded with the arraignment.
During recesses, the defendants talked amongst each other and seemed relaxed. They passed around a copy of The Economist magazine.
Mohammed wore a white turban. His long beard appeared to be colored red by henna and he was much thinner than the last time he was seen publicly in court a few years ago.
The charges allege that the five are “responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., resulting in the killing of 2,976 people,” the Defense Department said.
If convicted, the five face the death penalty.
“I’ve had conversations with other people who believe the circus is going to begin with the first appearance,” said Rear Adm. Donald Guter, who once served as the Navy’s top lawyer.
“One of the most important things that’s going to happen at arraignment is the scheduling of the trial and the scheduling of the motions hearings, and I’m sure there will be many,” according to Neal Puckett, a lawyer and retired Marine colonel who has spent most of his career in military courtrooms.
Technically, once the five are arraigned, the court has met the constitutional requirement for a speedy trial.
“The reality of course is that no one at Gitmo is getting a speedy trial. The rules are written as such to run the clock from the time that the charges are actually preferred or sworn, and of course that process has sort of started and stopped and started and stopped several times,” Puckett said.
The military initially charged Mohammed in 2008, but President Barack Obama stopped the case as part of his effort to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Unable to close the center, Obama attempted to move the case to federal court in New York in 2009, only to run into a political firestorm. The plan was dropped after complaints about cost and security.
Last April, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the five would face a military trial at Guantanamo Bay.
The decision was met with some criticism, including from the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said last month that the administration is making a “terrible mistake by prosecuting the most important terrorism trials of our time in a second-tier system of justice.”
“Whatever verdict comes out of the Guantanamo military commissions will be tainted by an unfair process and the politics that wrongly pulled these cases from federal courts, which have safely and successfully handled hundreds of terrorism trials,” Romero said.