Is alleged architect of 9/11 at Guantánamo?

03/02/2006 12:11 PM

11/26/2007 12:13 PM

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Is Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, being held here?

A captive facing conspiracy charges before a Military Commission raised the possibility during pre-trial hearings here Wednesday when, during questioning of a judge's competence to serve, the captive asked to be moved to a cell alongside the man known by his acronym ``KSM.''

Earlier, Yemeni captive Ali Hamza al Bahlul, 37, had repeatedly told the judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, that having a U.S. Army major as his defense lawyer couldn't get him a fair trial.

Americans, he argued, are too emotionally damaged by the Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks to fairly judge their adversary.

Bahlul did not explain, however, whether he actually knew ''KSM,'' and why he thought Mohammed was among the nearly 500 captives from dozens of countries being kept in six separate camps along the Caribbean.

''I am from al Qaeda, but I have no relationship with the events of Sept. 11,'' he declared in Arabic.

The United States has confirmed capture of the so-called operations chief, in Pakistan in March 2003, but has never disclosed his whereabouts. A leaked image of Mohammed, apparently taken at the time of the 40-year-old Kuwaiti's capture, shows a disheveled man in a white T-shirt, in need of a shave and a haircut.

Published reports have described him as being held at ''an undisclosed location,'' including aboard a ship at sea or at a so-called CIA black site, not in Army custody.

Either way, the United States has so far not chosen to charge Mohammed under President Bush's war-on-terror commissions formula for the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War II.

Army Maj. Jeffrey Weir, a prison spokesman, would neither confirm nor deny whether Mohammed was being held here.

The answer, he said, will be available Friday in a raft of paperwork being released by the Pentagon. The Defense Department had earlier blacked out captives' names on reports from their 2004-2005 status review hearings. A federal judge in New York gave the Bush administration until Friday to re-release the forms, with captives' names visible.

In his hearings this week, his third since he first faced charges in August 2004, Bahlul displayed knowledge about both current events and the evolution of commission processes presently underway for Guantánamo captives.

In one instance, he referred to fellow captive David Hicks' case, now stalled by a federal court, and said since Hicks had been able to secure an Australian legal advisor on his case wondered whether he might get a Yemeni advisor.

The slight Yemeni with shaved head and wispy mustache is charged with conspiracy to attack civilian targets and commit murder, and allegedly made al Qaeda recruiting videos, including one ''glorifying'' the USS Cole attack in 2000.

He allegedly also served as Osama bin Laden's bodyguard around the time of the 911 attacks, and, according to his charge sheet, unsuccessfully tried to arrange a satellite link as bin Laden fled Kandahar, Afghanistan, to watch news reports about the attack.

''Despite his efforts, al Bahlul was unable to obtain a satellite connection because of mountainous terrain,'' his charge sheet says.

Bahlul's case has presented some of the greatest challenges to the commission process itself, in part because he has refused the services of a series of Pentagon-assigned military defense lawyers -- and repeatedly sought to represent himself.

Pentagon officials ruled out self-representation, saying that as a captive he would not have access to secret evidence that might be used against him.

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