Courtroom drawing of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (center) and co-defendants attending a pre-trial session on Dec. 8, 2008, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Sketch by Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images.
Updated at 5:10 p.m. EDT: Lawyers representing the men who allegedly lay the groundwork for the 9/11 attacks on the United States went through a series of procedural motions Monday in a Guantanamo courtroom. The hearing continues on Tuesday.
Most of the day was spent determining how classified legal information would be handled during the trial on the substance of the charges, which could be years from now.
Monday’s hearing was transmitted via closed-circuit TV to Fort Meade in Maryland, where we live-blogged events.
The case, United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed et al, is one of two military commission hearings underway at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The other is for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian who allegedly orchestrated the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
The pre-trial hearings are occurring seven weeks after President Obama renewed his pledge to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo. On Monday, he was set to name Washington lawyer Clifford Sloan as the State Department’s special envoy for shuttering the detention facility, according to the Associated Press.
Closing the facility would mean transferring the last of the detainees to federal courts in the United States — something that Congress has blocked so far.
4:53 p.m. EDT: David Nevin, attorney for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said his defense team felt that restrictions placed on their meetings with their client in 2011, including time limits and their inability to discuss jihad, would prevent them from “providing meaningful representation.” Especially with the allegations of torture, they felt they needed more time, he said.
(Read Rear Adm. David Woods’ order of Dec. 27, 2011 on defense attorneys’ access to detainees. Woods oversaw the detention facility that year.)
4 p.m. EDT: James Harrington, representing Ramzi Binalshibh, brought up the subject of alleged torture of the detainees.
In response, retired Adm. Bruce MacDonald, who was in charge of the Guantanamo military commissions from 2010 until March 2013, said the United States has publicly disclosed it water boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. MacDonald said he is on the record as saying “I believe water boarding constitutes torture.”
1:50 p.m. EDT: Just before military judge, Army Col. James Pohl, called for a lunch break, James Connell, the counsel for Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, took the courtroom podium and asked about the definition of “contraband”.
When they returned, retired Adm. Bruce MacDonald replied that the Guantanamo prison commander decides what constitutes contraband.
Earlier this year, defense lawyers said guards confiscated confidential legal mail from the prisoners’ cells. Military lawyers testified in February that they were required to inspect the mail for staples and paperclips and then deliver it.
It was one of several attorney-client communication matters that came up at the hearing.
10:15 a.m. EDT: One of the defense attorneys, Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, asked why a court order required “monitoring and recording” of attorney-client meetings including phone calls.
Retired Adm. Bruce MacDonald, the Pentagon’s top official responsible for the war court, testified that the monitoring was to make sure no one else was on the line. He said he didn’t know why a recording requirement was included in the court order.
Defense attorneys for the suspected 9/11 plotters and for the alleged orchestrator of the USS Cole bombing had expressed concern that there were listening devices in the rooms where they met with the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The officer in charge of the prison said earlier this month that the devices, made to resemble smoke detectors, had been removed.
9:30 a.m. EDT: After a series of technical problems, including microphone glitches, the hearing at the Guantanamo courtroom began.
Two firefighters were part of Monday’s audience in the Guantanamo courtroom. Spectators sat at the back of the courtroom in a soundproof-glass room. They could hear the proceedings on a 40-second delay. That allows time for the court security officer to press a button and obscure the audio with white noise if something spoken is deemed a national security secret.
The defendants — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Waleed bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali — who all were wearing white robes, sat with their attorneys within the courtroom at separate tables. They could follow the proceedings with the help of translators.
The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States and four suspected co-conspirators appear in a Guantanamo court Monday for the first time since detainees went on a hunger strike earlier this year.
A military judge will hear pre-trial motions, including defense efforts to dismiss the case based on problems with the Military Commission Act of 2009. View a list of the motions (PDF).
The hearing could last throughout the week. We’ll be live-blogging the hearing — which is being broadcast at Fort Meade in Maryland via closed-circuit TV feed from Guantanamo — here on the Rundown and on Twitter.
The defendants are:
- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, raised in Kuwait, is identified in the 9/11 Commission Report as the “principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.”
- Waleed bin Attash, a Yemeni, allegedly ran a training camp in Afghanistan where two of the 9/11 hijackers went.
- Ramzi Binalshibh, also a Yemeni, is said to have found flight schools for the hijackers and helped them enter the United States.
- Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, a Saudi, is accused of providing money, Western clothing and credit cards for the hijackers.
- Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a Pakistani, allegedly provided $120,000 to the hijackers for flight training and other expenses.
The charges against them include murder and terrorism. They could get the death penalty if convicted.