GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks returned to the war court Monday for a week-long pretrial hearing, four months after defense lawyers discovered listening devices in their confidential meeting rooms.
Mohammed, 48, his beard still dyed burnt orange, appeared in his Woodland Pattern camouflage jacket, a white turban on his head. Alleged plot deputy Walid bin Attash, 35, wore U.S. Navy desert camouflage under a traditional white scarf. The other three men were in traditional Afghan and Gulf Arab attire.
Monday’s hearing started with the judge advising the five accused terrorists of their right to skip the remainder of the week’s hearings, to which each defendant responded with one word — “yes” — that he understood. Other than that, their Pentagon-paid lawyers spoke on their behalf throughout the morning. The men face charges for the airliner hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed 2,976 people at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and in a crash into a Pennsylvania field.
None of the five men appeared to be on a four-month-old hunger strike that has grown to include at least 104 of the 166 captives at the Guantánamo. Monday, Navy medical forces were tube-feeding 44 prisoners, two in the detention center hospital.
Moreover, Bin Attash’s death-penalty defender, Cheryl Bormann, mapped out time enough with the judge for a noon recess that included both lunch and the midday prayer, suggesting the men were eating Monday.
The last two hearings were focused on a protective order meant to safeguard U.S. national security secrets, including information about a defunct CIA overseas detention and interrogation network.
However, revelations of devices that looked like smoke detectors but turned out to be eavesdropping devices and intelligence agents with their fingers on the court mute button derailed debate about the order. Instead, the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl took testimony, then had both the bugs and the hidden-hand censorship switch removed.
Topics to be argued this week include whether a Pentagon official gave defense lawyers sufficient resources, including translators and experts, before their arraignment last May. Also whether defense lawyers can have access to International Red Cross reports to the Pentagon about the captives’ circumstances of detention.
Defense lawyers say the five men now charged as the alleged plotters of the 9/11 hijackings were tortured at their overseas prisons. Mohammed, 48, was waterboarded 183 times. The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, says no evidence obtained other than voluntarily will be used at their death-penalty trial. It could start at the earliest in 2014.
Testimony by video telecast from Washington state was expected to resume Monday with retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald. He had described the process of preparing the case in testimony earlier this year before he left his job as the Pentagon’s most senior official responsible for the war court.
Defense lawyers want Pohl to throw the case out because of “unlawful command influence,” a military expression for inappropriate meddling by a senior officer.
The Pentagon brought six victims of the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center to the base to watch this week’s proceedings.
They included two New York City firefighters who were wounded that day and the widow, sister and son of men killed at the trade center.
Sunday evening, some of the victims had an emotional meeting with some of the American lawyers defending the men accused of training, funding and directing the hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
“They are obviously guilty,” said former Firefighter Joe Torrillo, 57, who was on the force for nearly 24 years until 9/11 forced him to retire with a disability.
Torrillo was twice buried in the rubble of the collapsing towers and urged a trial “as quickly as possible.” Case prosecutor Ed Ryan said Torrillo was expected to testify as a government witness.
“I’ve wanted a little bit of finality in the last 12 years,” he said.
He declared himself mystified that the accused terrorists, by war court rules, each get at least one uniformed American military defense lawyer.
He equated it to “my wife picking out a dress for me to take my girlfriend to a Broadway show. They should be defended by their attorneys who they choose and pay.”