Guantanamo Hearings Proceed Despite Health Concerns

October 15, 2012

In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reads a document during his military hearing at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Saturday, May 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Janet Hamlin, Pool)

Arun Rath will be reporting on today’s proceedings at Guantanamo for FRONTLINE and The World. You can follow him for updates on Twitter at @ArunRath.

Motion hearings for the military commission trying 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants begin here today, and the proceedings are beset with controversy before the court is even in session.

The hearings have already been delayed three times, and defense attorneys sought another delay last week, after they were forced to leave their offices due to health concerns from rat feces and rampant mold.  (Lest you assume this is entirely a defense ploy, the Navy’s own “industrial hygiene officer” ruled the offices were unhealthy).

The matter appeared to be solved last week, after the judge became involved, and the offices were reportedly cleaned and re-authorized for use.

But in a conference with reporters last night, Cheryl Bormann, attorney for co-defendant Walid bin Attash, claimed the offices were still uninhabitable, showing photos of air filters caked with mold, and window ledges littered with rat and mouse excrement.  She also described the respiratory and skin problems suffered by half of her staff, including her own visit to the Guantanamo Bay ER, with eyes nearly swollen shut.

“The bottom line is, we’re not entering that workspace until we’re sure that it’s safe for us to be there.” They have brought in an independent health expert and are refusing to use the offices, currently working out of an workspace.  Bormann said she would return to the issue in the motion hearings this week.

Of course moldy workspaces and rat droppings are about the least controversial aspects of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s long and winding road through American justice post-9/11.   More than twenty motions may be considered this week, dealing with issues ranging from the “presumptive classification,” of testimony deemed potentially damaging to national security, the relevance of previous mistreatment of the detainees, to what sort of attire the defendants are allowed to wear in court.  Dozens more motions have been filed, meaning more hearings in the months to come, and likely pushing the start of the actual trial back another year or even longer.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arraigned in May along with four co-defendants, on charges ranging from terrorism to ‘murder in violation of the law of war.’  If convicted, the men would almost certainly face execution.

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