WAR COURT

Alleged al-Qaida chief's vest a snooze, a day later

 

Small issues dominated the day in war court as the judge discussed location, the defendants read and some spectators took a nap.

crosenberg@miamiherald.com

At the war court Thursday afternoon, some spectators snoozed, legal observers and reporters scribbled on their notepads and a soldier on escort duty barely looked up from his book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the 9/11attacks, sat just beyond thick glass in a camouflage hunting vest. But the brouhaha was over.

Only an Air Force major on the prosecution staff still seemed preoccupied with the $39.99 mail-order item. The major cupped a photo of a fatigue-clad Osama bin Laden in his hands to satisfy himself that Mohammed had the same Woodland pattern favored by the al Qaida founder.

The rest of the half-empty spectator’s gallery, including 10 9/11 victims, largely ignored the 47-year-old man who after years of CIA interrogation and detention claimed credit "from A to Z" for the hijacking operation that killed nearly 3,000 people.

One possible explanation: Location. With attendance largely limited to Pentagon guests and media brought onto the base, nearly everyone in the spectators gallery had been there the day before. Now the vest was old news.

Throughout the day, the chief judge acknowledged through analogy the remote nature of mounting the Sept. 11 war crimes trial here. Logistically, he said, the court’s "not down the block from Starbucks in Arlington, Virginia."

Legally, he said, “We’re not a part of the United States.” Guantánamo, he said, is not “in Paris either” — meaning it has sovereignty.

Only three of the five accused plotters chose to come to court. They passed the afternoon reading, too. Mohammed was hunched over a yellow legal pad, while his nephew Ammar al Baluchi, 35, leafed through a copy of “The 9/11 Commission Report.”

Walid bin Attash, 34, accused as Mohammed’s deputy, leafed through a wall calendar decorated with wildlife photos. He had detached a prosthetic leg, and propped it against the defense table.

It was a day of large motions and small, meant to set conditions for when the five alleged 9/11 plotters finally go to trial.

A prosecutor stood before the judge and pledged to hire a cleaning team to mitigate a rat and mold infestation at defense offices at the Camp Justice war court compound, where tents, trailers and old buildings stew in humidity.

Defense lawyers continued to argue against prosecution secrecy, particularly a proposed gag order covering information that’s not classified.

Defense lawyers also asked the judge to rule that the U.S. Constitution governs the Guantánamo proceedings. Baluchi’s attorney, Jay Connell, said it should be the prosecution’s burden to prove certain protections don’t apply.

The prosecutors argued for the reverse: Start with the right to habeas corpus and let defense lawyers file a series of motions that invoke individual protections, a kind of constitutional whack-a-mole.

The rat-and-mold issue was resolved. But the judge said he’d rule on the weightier issues later.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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