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Sept. 11 attacks: Alleged Al Qaeda operatives return to court

October 15, 2012|By Richard A. Serrano
  • Accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed consults a defense attorney in this courtroom sketch.
Accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed consults a defense… (Janet Hamlin / Miami Herald )

FT. MEADE, Md. -- Pretrial hearings for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged top Al Qaeda operatives reopen Monday morning with a military commission judge expected to rule on numerous key disputes in the capital murder case for those accused of planning, financing and preparing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The hearings at the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, over the next five days will center on whether a top CIA official who oversaw the water boarding of Mohammed should be compelled to testify about the harsh technique and whether public comments by former President George W. Bush and other members of his administration so prejudiced the defendants’ rights to a fair trial that the case itself should be thrown out.

Also at issue before Judge James L. Pohl, an Army colonel with a law degree from Pepperdine University, is the often-belligerent courthouse demeanor of Mohammed and the others, and whether they have been treated inhumanely after years at the island prison and now are psychologically unable to understand the case against them and assist in their defense.

The weeklong hearings will mark the first time the defendants have been in court since May. At that time they appeared for a marathon arraignment session on an 87-page charge sheet that included conspiracy, murder, aircraft hijacking and terrorism. Some 3,000 people died in the attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the charges carry the death penalty. A trial is tentatively set for next May.

Mohammed is the accused mastermind of the attacks, serving just under then-Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The others are Ramzi Binalshib, the alleged plot cell manager, Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward, and Ammar al Baluchi, a.k.a. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, both alleged Al Qaeda financiers.

Together the so-called “GTMO 5” have at various times admitted guilt, declared their innocence, refused to acknowledge the authority of the military commission process, and staged protests inside the courtroom. The proceedings are also being telecast via a secure video link to Ft. Meade.

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richard.serrano@latimes.com

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