The five Sept. 11 defendants, in a courtroom sketch, attend pretrial motions… (Janet Hamlin / Associated…)
FT. MEADE, Md. -- An alleged top Al Qaeda lieutenant charged with four other defendants in the Sept. 11 conspiracy angrily lashed out Monday against the military tribunal system, saying the process had zapped any desire for “us to come to court” to defend against possible death sentences in the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
Accused Al Qaeda training camp steward Walid bin Attash apparently spoke for his co-defendants, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in voicing his disgust during the first day of pretrial hearings this week at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
While the others said they had no questions about their right to attend or skip the hearings, Attash told the judge that, either way, the military commissions process was heavily stacked against them.
“We don’t have any motivating factors that would invite us to come to the court,” he said. “We have been dealing with our attorneys for a year and a half and haven’t been able to build any trust with them. Our attorneys are bound and we are bound too.”
Attash added, “There are many things the court could to do to help motivate us to come to court but there is nothing that motivates us now. … The government does not want us to understand or hear or say anything.”
The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, did not respond to him.
Attash's attorney, Cheryl Bormann, further complained that every time Attash is moved from his cell to the court area he is heavily chained and shackled, making it extremely difficult for her to confer with him. She asked the judge to remove the restraints.
The judge refused.
“Within these four walls, they are not to be shackled,” Pohl said of his courtroom. But what happens before they get there, Pohl said, is a matter for military security personnel guarding the 166 detainees in one of the most fortified maximum-security prisons in the world.
“Outside that door,” the judge said, “that is their lane.”
All five men in the Sept. 11 case have spent nearly a decade in the island prison and have pleaded not guilty. In the hearings this week, their defense attorneys will seek more information about secret “black site” locations overseas where their clients were first held in captivity.
The attorneys also hope to acquire new details about the prisoners' harsh treatment, such as Mohammed’s repeated waterboarding, and plan to use that evidence as proof their clients were physically and mentally tortured.
James G. Connell III, an attorney for alleged Al Qaeda financier Ammar al Baluchi, also known as Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, said outside the courtroom that the defense team was on “a search for truth” and that the hearings would “begin to take a first step toward finding the truth about what happened in the torture of these men.”
Also looming over the hearings is the fact that a federal appeals court in Washington has overturned the only two convictions reached so far against any Guantanamo Bay detainees, that of Ali Hamza Bahlul, who allegedly provided material support to terrorists and made Al Qaeda videos, and Salim Hamdan, an alleged driver for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
In the Bahlul case, the civilian appeals court ruled Friday that material support and conspiracy charges against him did not meet the standards of the 2006 Military Commissions Act. In October, the appellate court dismissed Hamdan’s conviction for similar reasons. He was returned to Yemen after serving 5 1/2 years.
The other Sept. 11 defendants are Ramzi Binalshib, the alleged pilot cell manager, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, an accused Al Qaeda financier.
The hearings are being simulcast at Ft. Meade.
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