Firefighters and cops who raced to the burning trade World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001 will watch in one room at a Brooklyn Army post while 9/11 victims will watch from another. Media, family members and members of the public can watch on three separate screens at Fort Meade in Maryland.
For next week’s unusual Saturday military commissions arraignment at Guantánamo of five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon has put four U.S. military bases into service — all on the East Coast.
Friday, the Pentagon published an order by Army Col. James L. Pohl, the chief of the Guantánamo war court, to open viewing sites for the May 5 arraignment “due to the serious nature of the crimes alleged and the historic nature of military commissions.”
In it, Pohl authorized a total of eight viewing sites set up for different categories of spectators authorized to watch via closed-circuit TV feed when Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged 9/11 accomplices are brought into the Guantánamo court. They will not be broadcast.
All five are accused of organizing, training and funneling funds to the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, and could face the death penalty if convicted at trial.
Two of the sites won’t be ready in time, so the viewings break down this way:
It’s still being set up, said Fort Hamilton’s spokeswoman, Alison Kohler. In the meantime, they’ll get a separate screen at Fort Hamilton, in a “multi-purpose-room” that can seat 460 people and accommodate 150 more in overflow space. Victim families will get the base auditorium that seats 500.
Fort Hamilton is an active military base, Kohler noted, adding that all visitors and their vehicles will be searched. It’s also home to a special anti-terror unit, called a Civil Support Team.
Some of the Pentagon-paid lawyers who’ve been assigned to defend the five men are arguing for even greater transparency of the actual trial.
“We want it on C-SPAN,” defense attorney James Connell III said from Guantánamo, where he’s filing motions on behalf of Mohammed’s nephew, who is accused as a conspirator in the attacks for wiring money to some of the 9/11 hijackers.
Wider viewership, Connell argued, might gain more understanding of the diverse roles that the five accused allegedly played in the attacks. In the case of Connell’s client, who’s known as Ammar al Baluchi, “I think if people understand more about him, they’d be less likely to say ‘Hey this low-level guy deserves the death penalty.’ ”
Attorney General Eric Holder had first decided to hold the 9/11 trial in Manhattan, with a civilian jury hearing the case at the U.S. District Court. Congress blocked that plan through legislation. Holder ultimately authorized the Defense Department to hold the trial by military commission, a jury of U.S. military officers.