World watches as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others go on trial
The military trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 defendants could become the most important US war crimes tribunal since Nuremberg. But at their arraignment Saturday, the five men staged a protest.
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, CUBA
The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was brought before a military judge on Saturday and not only refused to answer routine questions in open court, but also refused to listen to a simultaneous Arabic translation of the proceeding.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, Mr. Mohammed and his co-defendants, accused of plotting the most lethal terrorist attack in US history, sought to use the proceeding to stage a protest.
Like Mohammed, several of the defendants took their earphones off as the arraignment was getting under way.
On full display before a packed courtroom on the US Navy base here, Mohammed seemed almost disinterested as he was confronted with charges that he conceived, planned, and directed a 19-man suicide mission that left nearly 3,000 dead on Sept. 11, 2001.
Mohammed appeared in a white robe with a long and bushy red henna-stained beard. On his head, he wore the white turban of a mullah, and his forehead showed a prayer bruise common among devout Muslims. It was the first time in three years he’d been seen in public.
The appearance came amid security so tight that reporters were not permitted to bring their own pens into a press viewing area separated from the courtroom by thick glass.
Mohammed’s four co-defendants adopted the same posture of passive defiance, repeatedly refusing to acknowledge the presence of the military judge or the gravity of the capital charges filed against them.
“I believe Mr. Mohammed will decline to address the court. I believe he is deeply concerned about the fairness of the proceeding,” Defense Attorney David Nevin told the judge.
He added: “The world is watching.”
The occasion was meant to be an arraignment, a routine opportunity for the defendants to be apprised of the charges filed against them and to set the stage for an eventual trial.
But nothing in the case of United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been routine.
If it proceeds to trial, the Mohammed case could become the most important US war crimes tribunal since Nuremberg. But unlike the adjudication of alleged Nazi war criminals after World War II, the Mohammed trial is tainted by the CIA’s use of extremely harsh interrogation tactics in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.
That history complicates any effort to bring Mohammed and his alleged coconspirators to justice. Critics of the military commission process say it is a rigged system designed to allow the introduction of coerced evidence and hearsay that would be excluded from a trial in federal court.
Military prosecutors insist they can make their case without relying on evidence gathered through excessively coercive interrogations and torture.
Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators are facing eight charges, including conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, murder, hijacking, as well as intentional attacks on civilians and civilian property.
If convicted, all five face a death sentence.
Mohammed’s appearance at Guantánamo on Saturday marks yet another reversal in the on-again, off-again military commission process.
He and the four others were arraigned by a different military judge in June 2008. Mohammed used that occasion to accuse the US government of torturing him. He also rejected his court-appointed lawyer.
This time he remained silent, allowing his lawyer to do the talking.
Like the defendants, defense counsel seemed to be acting in coordination, as if they might be auditioning for their militant clients. Defense counsel repeatedly interrupted the judge, US Army Col. James Pohl, while trying to argue pretrial motions seeking to have the charges thrown out.
At one point, reporters viewing the courtroom saw Mohammed smile slightly as a lawyer expressed concern about taking an oath to serve a military commission process that the lawyer said he viewed as unfair.
Making a Difference