Pentagon screens grisly movie at Gitmo trial

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Hijacked jets plunged into the World Trade Center and the towers toppled again and again on a huge flat screen at the Guantánamo war court on Monday as the Pentagon showed a graphic, $20,000 made-to-order movie about al Qaeda at the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver.

Everyone watched in stony silence, expressionless, from the accused to the six U.S. military officers serving as jurors in Yemeni Salim Hamdan's terror trial.

It was the sixth day of the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II and began with dry legal wrangling about when the U.S. war on al Qaeda began.

But the day ended with a 26-minute, stomach-wrenching cavalcade of archival mayhem -- from a grisly panorama of charred corpses in the 1998 suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, to black-masked al Qaeda trainees learning to slit a throat.

Also included on the film were audible moaning and wails of ''Oh my God'' as the trade center was shown toppling from several angles on Sept. 11, 2001.

The video itself was controversial. The Pentagon paid counter-terror consultant Evan Kohlmann to produce it and supplied him with some of the images he spliced into it. The tab was $45,000 and broke down like this -- $20,000 for the seven-part, 90-minute film and $25,000 for his testimony, including preparation.

Prosecutors will not have to pay Kohlmann to play it at future trials, said Air Force Maj. Gail Crawford, a war court spokeswoman.

Moreover, Hamdan lawyer Charlie Swift repeatedly tried to keep the most gruesome parts out, notably the 9/11 portion, arguing that it would inflame and bias the jury.

''We now need screaming, bodies, to illustrate that this is terrorism?'' Swift asked. ``This is to terrorize the jury.''

Clayton Trivett Jr., a case prosecutor, countered: ``That's why we are here at a war crimes tribunal. These people are trained in military operations, and war is hell.''

The military judge whose job is to decide the evidence and the law at first excluded what he called the ''carnage'' as ``more prejudicial than probative.''

''Specifically, the planes crashing into the towers and the people screaming doesn't prove anything,'' Navy Capt. Keith Allred said in a ruling from the bench.

But later he changed his mind, noting that the prosecution had already shown footage of charred cadavers in the Kenyan bombing.

Afterward, the Pentagon's deputy defense counsel, Mike Berrigan, said Allred handed defense lawyers ''a significant appeal issue'' by allowing evidence that appeals to emotion, not reason.

Hamdan, 37, is accused of conspiracy and providing material support for terror. He is accused of driving bin Laden, which he admits, and also allegedly being the al Qaeda godfather's sometime bodyguard and weapons courier, which he denies.

There is no evidence Hamdan knew the details in advance or had a role in plotting the death and destruction portrayed in the movie.

The prosecution could finish its side by Tuesday or Wednesday. Defense lawyers would start right afterward.

Still undecided was whether the alleged 9/11 mastermind, being called by Hamdan's lawyer to dispute he had any role in the attack, would testify in person, on paper or by videotape.

Read more In the Courts stories from the Miami Herald

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