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Alleged planner of Sept. 11 lashes out in court

October 18, 2012|Richard A. Serrano
  • An artist's sketch shows alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed speaking with a member of his legal team during a pretrial hearing at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An artist's sketch shows alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh… (Janet Hamlin, Associated…)

FT. MEADE, MD. — Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed lashed out Wednesday at his military judge and prosecutor, saying Americans had killed "millions" more people than the nearly 3,000 who died during the 2001 airplane attacks.

"My only advice for you is that you do not get affected by the crocodile tears," he told Judge James L. Pohl. "Because your blood is not made of gold and ours is made out of water. We are all human beings."

Wearing a green camouflage vest over his white robes, his thick, orange beard hiding most of it, Mohammed sat at his counsel table in front of the judge and sternly ridiculed the military judicial process at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He singled out the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins.

"When the government feels sad for the killing of 3,000 people who were killed on Sept. 11," Mohammed said, "they should also feel sorry that the same government that is represented by Gen. Martins and others has killed thousands, millions of people."

The judge said he would issue a protective ruling Wednesday on whether classified matters, such as torture and other enhanced interrogation techniques, would be allowed in open court, a question that has sharply divided prosecutors and defense attorneys. The issue clearly set off Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times at a secret CIA "black site," and he broke his silence in the pretrial hearings begun Monday.

The judge was unimpressed.

"No matter how heartfelt, I'm not going to entertain personal comments of any accused," he warned Mohammed and all of the defense lawyers. "I want to make that very clear.

"This was a personal statement. He has a right to have that opinion. He does not have the right to voice that opinion and stop the proceedings."

On national security and classified information, prosecutors want a protective order that prohibits any mention of the defendants' treatment before they were shipped to Guantanamo in 2006.

The government contends that treatment has no bearing on the case or whether the five defendants should be executed for the attacks at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington, and a rural field in western Pennsylvania.

Joanna Baltes, a Justice Department prosecutor, argued that a strong protective order would prevent the unauthorized leak of classified materials. She suggested court proceedings could be closed at times, along with the use of a 40-second delay in the audio feed from the courtroom -- provisions that have been put to use in federal court cases.

"The government can prosecute individuals without compromising national security," she told Pohl. "We can bring a case like this where almost 3,000 people were murdered and make sure that at the same time we are not compromising national security. These are tried and true provisions that have been used in federal courts."

But defense lawyers want the jury to hear about the harsh interrogation measures as possible reasons for sparing the defendants' lives.

David Nevin, Mohammed's attorney, wants to ask his client about waterboarding and use it as part of his defense. "Everything that was done was done against his will," Nevin told the judge, stressing how important he believes that evidence is. "It was all imposed on him from the outside."

"I will make some decision and probably issue a protective order," the judge said. "Both sides will get a ruling on this."

How far the judge will go remains uncertain. Pohl asked each side to review his order once he files it, suggesting he would not be against amending the ruling once he receives their input.

Pohl also has indicated that he does not necessarily believe he can legally declassify national security information even if it has already been made public, such as Mohammed's waterboarding. While that bodes well for the government, defense lawyers saw it as absurd because the public -- and, more important, the jury -- would already know about it.

The other four defendants are Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged plot cell manager; Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward; and Ammar al Baluchi, aka Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, alleged Al Qaeda financiers.

Only two of the defendants, Mohammed and Baluchi, attended Wednesday's hearing. Mohammed initially decided not to but changed his mind and was allowed in during the morning break.

The hearings are being telecast via a secure video link to Ft. Meade.

--

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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