The accused architect of the 9/11 attacks was allowed to wear a camouflaged vest to the war court Wednesday then, cloaked in the costume of a fellow combatant, lectured his Army judge on national security.
"Your blood is not made of gold and ours is made out of water. We are all human beings," Khalid Sheik Mohammed said in an uninterrupted monologue that mocked U.S. sadness at the loss of nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
Governments can torture, detain kids and do targeted assassination in the name of national security, he said at the end of day-long legal arguments on whether the CIA program that waterboarded Mohammed 183 times, to uncover al-Qaida plots, can be made public at his eventual death-penalty trial.
Col. James Pohl, the judge, made no decisions on what classification restrictions would govern the trial of Mohammed and four alleged accomplices. But he rebuked Mohammed’s attorney, David Nevins, that his client’s commentary was not permitted in court.
Mohammed, 47, made clear he knew about last year’s death and disposal of Osama bin Laden. “The president can take someone and throw them in the sea in the name of national security,” he said.
It was Day 3 of a week of pre-trial motions and spectators got a taste of the controversial 40-second delay and sound kill-switch at the special court designed by the Pentagon to prevent release of state secrets.
As a Navy lawyer described hypothetical interrogation techniques — beatings, chaining someone to a ceiling — a court censor cut the sound to spectators. Judge Pohl ruled the description fit for the public. Sound restored, the lawyer repeated himself for court watchers.
An American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, Hina Shamsi, had earlier in the day called the sound delay unconstitutional. If the accused speak in court about what they claim the CIA did to them, the public has a right to hear it, she said. The government can gag the agents and interrogators, but not those who want to allege what was done to them.
"You know, it should go without saying, but perhaps the CIA needs to hear it: Thoughts, experiences and memories belong to human beings," she said. "They do not belong to the government."
Justice Department attorney Joanna Baltes defended the government’s right shield properly classified Top Secret information and called Shamsi “disingenuous” for saying federal courts don’t have the same rules. She called the 40-second delay a convenience created specially for Guantánamo because “no courtroom in the United States has the same type of technology that we have.”
But Mohammed, the man who bragged he ran the Sept. 11 attacks “from A to Z” after years in CIA custody, was the focus of the day. While three fellow accused chose to skip court and stay at the prison, the alleged mastermind and his nephew accepted a prison lawyer’s offer to attend the hearings.
Mohammed’s entrance to court in the vest caused a stir in the spectators’ gallery.
“Look, fatigues,” said one observer. A man whose son was killed in 9/11 held up his child’s picture.
The attire is part of Mohammed’s effort, through Pentagon-paid lawyers, to argue that he considers himself a legitimate combatant entitled to Geneva Convention status as a prisoner of war. At Guantánamo Mohammed has described himself as a revolutionary-like George Washington.
The prosecution calls him a terrorist as alleged architect of the synchronized 2001 hijackings of four aircraft that crashed in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. His four co-defendants allegedly trained, financed or helped arrange travel for the 19 hijackers.
The prison camps chief, Navy. Rear Adm. David Woods, refused to let Mohammed wear the vest to court to his May arraignment.
He argued, alternately, that it was culturally inappropriate court room attire and could complicate efforts to subdue a detainee who became disruptive. Pohl overruled him.
Three young U.S. sailor guards sat just feet away from him, in the latest Navy battle dress, demonstrably distinctive from the man accused of masterminding the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
For one, Mohammed’s RothcoVintage Woodland Camo Ranger Vest — on sale for $39.99 in Sears’ website catalogue — accessorized his traditional, flowing white garb. Also, the middle-aged Mohammed had a white turban atop his head and a red-henna-dyed beard, unlike his cap-less, clean-shaven guards.