WAR COURT

Accused 9/11 mastermind can wear camouflage at Guantánamo court

 

crosenberg@miamiherald.com

Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed has the right to wear a camouflage vest to his death-penalty trial, a war-court judge ruled Tuesday.

In approving the paramilitary-style attire, Judge James Pohl overruled a Guantánamo prison commander. The commander can choose captives’ clothing at the detention center, Pohl ruled. But, he added, the court is the judge’s domain.

Mohammed was outside court in a cell watching a video broadcast of the proceedings while his Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer, Army Capt. Jason Wright stood before the judge in his dress blues, and argued that the Geneva Conventions give the alleged arch terrorist the right to wear camouflage.

Wright cited the 9/11 Commission Report that noted Mohammed fought with the mujahedeen resistance movement in Afghanistan, a paramilitary movement once supported by the United States, and also in Bosnia. Defense lawyers bought their client a Woodlands Pattern-style hunting vest because Mohammed “wanted to wear the same type of uniform he wore while fighting for the U.S.-supported mujahedeen in Afghanistan and in Bosnia,” Wright said.

Mohammed and four alleged accomplices face an eventual death-penalty tribunal before U.S. military officers in the 9/11 attack that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. Prosecutors opposed the attire.

Marine Maj. Joshua Kirk urged the judge to let the prison chief decide. In an affidavit, Navy Rear Adm. David Woods wrote he rejected the vest for a variety of reasons: It’s not appropriate court attire. It resembled U.S. military attire. Plus, it’s a potential security hazard. Multi-layered clothing and many pockets might make it difficult to subdue the self-described, 47-year-old former al Qaida operations chief.

“Look around the room. How many guards do you have?” retorted Pohl, an Army colonel. There were 14 troops seated alongside just two of the Sept. 11 accused.

Pohl added several caveats: The camouflage can’t be the same as those worn by any of the array of U.S. armed forces at this remote Navy base. And, if any of the five war-court accused want to don a prison-camp uniform it must reflect his disciplinary status at the prison — white for a compliant captive, bright orange for someone held in disciplinary status.

Earlier this year, one white-clad 9/11 defendant, Saudi Mustafa Hawsawi, 44, sought to don a bright orange jumpsuit as a silent protest of his treatment.

All five men were held by the CIA before they got to Guantánamo in 2006, and all claim they were tortured.

Tuesday, Pohl gave them a choice of whether to come to the war court, and only two showed up — Ramzi bin al Shibh, 40, and Walid bin Attash, 34, both accused as lieutenants in the 9/11 plot.

Mohammed accepted a pre-dawn invitation to come to Camp Justice but watched on a screen inside a lockup behind the court. His nephew, Ammar al Baluchi, 35, in mourning from the death of his father in Kuwait, and Saudi co-defendant Hawsawi never left the prison.

Later Tuesday, a lawyer for The Miami Herald and 13 other news organizations argued against Guantánamo court procedures that automatically shut the public out of testimony that touches on CIA activities.

“The public has a constitutional right to know what is being done in it’s name at this tribunal,” said First Amendment attorney David Schulz.

CIA agents waterboarded Mohammed 183 times and subjected all the accused to the now-abandoned “enhanced interrogation” techniques in a bid to uncover al Qaida plots.

An American Civil Liberties Union attorney, Hina Shamsi, argued against the government’s plan to hold the trial on a 40-second delay, time enough to mask with white noise any talk of torture or details of the secret CIA program that for years held dozens of foreign men captives around the world.

Shamsi branded the courtroom a “a censorship chamber” without parallel in U.S. courts.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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