The military judge in charge of the Sept. 11 terrorism trial has decided to start this week’s pretrial hearings with just one of the alleged plotters, Ramzi bin al Shibh, at the war court on Monday.
At issue: The Pentagon prosecutor’s challenge to the decision by the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, to put Bin al Shibh on trial separately from the alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and three other alleged co-conspirators.
All five men have been on trial together since their May 5, 2012, arraignment on charges they trained, funded and arranged travel for the 19 hijackers of the planes that crashed into the Pentagon, World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001 — killing 2,976 people.
Pohl separated out Bin al Shibh’s case July 24, citing an ongoing conflict-of-interest issue stemming from an apparently since-closed FBI investigation and an on-again, off-again issue of Bin al Shibh’s mental competency. Both issues have stymied progress in the trial of all five men.
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Prosecutors oppose separating the case and asked the judge to reconsider his decision in a July 30 filing that was still under seal at the war court’s website Sunday.
Bin al Shibh, 42, from Yemen, is one of the most outspoken of the five accused Sept. 11 plotters.
In December, the judge ejected him from court four times in two days for shouting that guards were keeping him awake at night in his cell through noises and vibration. His lawyers have filed a legal motion protesting the treatment.
Prosecutors have replied that the Yemeni is delusional but mentally competent for trial.
He is accused of helping the German cell of hijackers find flight schools and enter the United States. He also allegedly aspired to be one of the hijackers and recorded a "martyr video," but was four times denied a visa at U.S. embassies in Berlin and his native Sana’a, Yemen.
Bin al Shibh was the first of the alleged plotters captured, in a Pakistani intelligence services raid in Karachi that took place Sept. 10-11, 2002. He spent the next four years in the CIA’s secret prison network until his transfer to military custody for trial in September 2006.
Judge Pohl ordered Monday’s separate hearing for Bin al Shibh after meeting with defense and prosecution attorneys Saturday afternoon. The judge ordered the rest of the 9/11 accused brought to court on Tuesday.
Or, as the chief prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins explained it Sunday: "Although things could well change, Tuesday morning is then currently projected to commence with proceedings involving all five accused or merely the latter four" — depending on how Pohl rules.
Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg tweets @carolrosenberg