9/11 accused in Guantanamo court but trial distant

BEN FOX
Last updated 07:31 18/06/2013
A sketch of self-proclaimed terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage jacket and white turban, made  during a break in the pretrial hearings at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba.
IN COURT: A sketch of self-proclaimed terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage jacket and white turban, made during a break in the pretrial hearings at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba.

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Five Guantanamo Bay prisoners accused of helping orchestrate the September 11 terrorist attacks returned to court overnight (NZ time) as arguments resumed over the preparations for a trial that remains distant.

It was the first time the five prisoners had been in court since February and they sat calmly through a morning's worth of dense legalistic testimony, with none of the outbursts that had characterised previous sessions.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed terrorist mastermind and lead defendant, wore a camouflage jacket and white turban, his bushy gray beard dyed reddish-orange.

In the audience, behind panels of glass that allow the government to cut off sound in case classified information is inadvertently uttered, were two retired New York firefighters who were injured while responding to the September 11 attacks, along with the relatives of other victims. The spectators were chosen by lottery to view the proceedings at the US base in Cuba. Several said they were eager to see it move along.

"They are obviously guilty, I think they have already admitted it, and the trial should happen as quickly as possible," said Joe Torrillo, one of the two retired firefighters.

Mohammed has told the military that he was involved in a long list of terrorist plots, including the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and has said in court that he was proud of his role in the September 11 plot. The men have not yet entered pleas and defence lawyers say the men were tortured in CIA custody.

In the start of what is scheduled to be five days of pretrial motions hearings, the defence questioned retired Navy Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald, the Pentagon legal official who oversaw the military tribunals until his term expired in March, about rules he approved governing attorney-client interactions in the case.

Defense lawyers called MacDonald in part to challenge the rules, which they say interfere with their ability to represent their clients, who are held under ultra-secure conditions in a section of Guantanamo reserved for men deemed by the Pentagon to be "high-value detainees."

The judge will be hearing motions this week on a long list of procedural motions including whether the defendants can be excluded from closed pretrial sessions that deal with classified material and whether the defense can gain access to confidential reports records of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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The government has asked for a trial in late 2014, though it's likely to be later.

Mohammed and his four co-defendants each face charges that include terrorism and nearly 3000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and aiding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They could get the death penalty if convicted.

- AP

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