The Miami Herald

Captives brag of 9/11 roles

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Two former CIA-held captives boasted of their role in the 9/11 attacks Monday, as the Pentagon's war-crimes court convened for perhaps its final session on the eve of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.

''We're proud of Sept. 11,'' wannabe hijacker Ramzi bin al Shibh announced as guards removed his ankle shackles for what was scheduled to be his sanity hearing.

Instead, Monday's session was mostly procedural, the opening day of a docketed month-long session of the military commissions, held on Martin Luther King Day while much of the base observed the holiday.

It was also the last full day of the Bush administration, which has championed trials for some and indefinite detention for others here.

And it was shadowed by the recurring allegations of torture -- about who spoke to interrogators willingingly, who did not -- which have so tainted operations here that Obama has pledged to empty the prison camps of the last 245 war-on-terror captives.

But Obama has not said what he will do with the war court. His lawyers say he might tweak, if not scrap, the special system the White House set up in the months after the 9/11 attacks, then got approved by the GOP-led Congress in 2006.

''The people who have tortured me received their salaries from the American government,'' said confessed al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, as the 9/11 accused continued to spurn their assigned U.S. military defense counsel.

''We don't care about the capital punishment,'' Mohammed matter-of-factly told their judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley. ``We are doing jihad for the cause of God.''

It was the second 9/11 hearing in a row in which the Defense Department brought in Americans who lost kin in the terror attacks -- and, after watching the accused taunt their captors, the families pleaded with Obama not to close the prison camps.

''Today, we were in the presence of evil, true evil,'' said Don Arias, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel whose stockbroker brother was killed in the World Trade Center. ``Whatever process is speedy and expedient to dispatch these people to hell is not fast enough.''

Meantime, in a second courtroom, Judge Patrick Parrish heard testimony from FBI and military interrogators that Canadian Omar Khadr spilled al Qaeda's secrets willingly as a teenage captive in American custody.

Khadr could become the next case at trial, and the first test before the Obama administration.

The president-elect has said his lawyers will take time to study detainee files, consider how to prosecute some cases and in parallel close the prison camps.

But the Toronto-born Khadr's trial is scheduled for Jan. 26, while the Sept. 11 capital case is still mired in preliminaries, including what evidence the accused terrorists can see and whether Bin al Shibh is sane enough to defend himself.

Childrens' rights groups want the United States to repatriate Khadr, rather than try him as a war criminal for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in a July 2002 firefight between U.S. forces and al Qaeda suspects in Afghanistan.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured and shot, and advocates say he should have been treated as a ''child soldier,'' not subjected to U.S. military interrogations.




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