A military judge overseeing the Sept. 11 conspiracy trial at Guantánamo has set the next hearing in the case for five days during Ramadan, and says the month when Muslim fast during the day is no excuse for a delay.
Army Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, made note of the holy month, in a scheduling order that grappled with the complexities of mounting the joint capital trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged accomplices at the base in southeast Cuba..
He set the hearing for Aug. 8-12, a first ever war court session that would convene on both a Saturday and a Sunday. Members of the five separate defense teams had reported conflicts for June and July.
Pohl also set the subsequent hearing to straddle both a weekend and the 11th anniversary of the terror attacks, Sept. 8-12, in a two-page order unsealed by the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The Pentagon in the past has convened military commissions sessions at Guantánamo during Ramadan, presenting a bit of a logistical challenge to the prison camps’ staff that shuttle the accused several miles across the base from the detention center to the bay-front compound where the trials are held.
During Ramadan, the military has typically upended its schedule to provide meals to the prison camps at night and meet the captives’ religious needs.
Earlier this month, when Pohl presided at the arraignment of the 9/11 accused, on a Saturday, the hearing spanned 13 hours and included three scheduled prayer breaks for the accused. The men unfurled their prison-approved prayer rugs on the floor of the maximum-security courtroom, and worshipped on the spot.
“No defense counsel has raised any concerns” about convening a hearing during Ramadan, the judge wrote in the order, which predicted the month that starts with the sighting of a sliver of a moon would run from July 21 to Aug. 20. Pohl added that he “will not consider any adjustment in its order based on a conflict with Ramadan.”
Military lawyers say courts martial that continue through a weekend are not unusual, particularly in cases convened in the field rather than at U.S. bases that follow more traditional Monday-Friday schedule.
At Guantánamo, where the site of the war court compound is called the Expeditionary Legal Complex, the base and prison camp do reduce the pace of work activity on weekends when concerts by visiting entertainers and beach parties surge.