Five 9/11 suspects remain defiant at chaotic hearing


GUANTÁNAMO BAY – Five Guantánamo prisoners accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks refused to answer a US military judge’s questions on Saturday in a chaotic court hearing in which defence lawyers sought to cast the war crimes tribunal as unfair.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed architect of the hijacked aircraft attacks in 2001, and his four co-defendants exercised their right to indefinitely delay entering a plea to murder and terrorism charges that carry the death penalty.

The disorderly 13-hour arraignment hearing in a top-security courtroom at the Guantánamo Bay US naval base in Cuba was marked by the defiance and outbursts of the defendants. The military tribunal was adjourned until June 12th. The judge, army colonel James Pohl, said it would be at least a year before the trial started.

The Islamist militants are accused of conspiring with Osama bin Laden, murder in violation of the laws of war, hijacking, terrorism and other charges stemming from the 2001 attacks that propelled the US into a deadly, costly and ongoing global war against al-Qaeda and its supporters.

Two defendants insisted that the charge sheet be read out and it took prosecutors 2½ hours to read the portion describing the highjackings.

But they did not read the appendix listing the names of all 2,976 people killed when the seized jetliners slammed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

A previous attempt to prosecute the four men in Guantánamo was halted when the Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to move the case into a New York federal court.

Saturday’s hearing was the first time the detainees had been seen in public in about three years. Mr Mohammed, a 47-year-old Pakistani, looked haggard and his full, scraggly beard was tinted red with henna. He wore a white turban and white tunic.

As he and his co-defendants refused to answer Judge Pohl’s questions, the exasperated judge struggled to keep the hearing on track. “Why is this so hard?” he asked at one point.

Defence attorney David Nevin said Mr Mohammed refused to respond to the judge’s questions because “he is deeply concerned about the fairness of the proceeding” and had been tortured.

Yemeni defendant Ramzi Binalshibh knelt on the courtroom floor and prayed as a row of burly guards kept a close watch.

Later he stood up shouting and seemed to be saying that the late Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy was being held at Guantánamo.

He said tricks were being played on the defendants inside the prison camp and “maybe they are going to kill us at the camp . . . and say that we are committing suicide”.

When Yemeni defendant Walid bin Attash refused to enter the courtroom, guards strapped him into a restraining chair and wheeled him in. They later brought him the prosthetic leg that replaced one he lost during a 1997 battle in Afghanistan.

Mr Bin Attash was freed from the restraints after promising to behave but stripped off his shirt and undershirt when his attorney said he had been scarred by abuse in custody.

The defendants refused to listen through earphones to Arabic translations of the judge’s questions, so he ordered the translation broadcast by loudspeaker. An attorney for bin Attash, Cheryl Borman, who wore a hijab and long robe, told the court mistreatment at Guantánamo had interfered with her client’s ability to take part in the proceedings. – (Reuters)