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New pretrial hearings open for five alleged Sept. 11 plotters

January 28, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano
  • A courtroom sketch of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a pretrial hearing last October.
A courtroom sketch of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a pretrial hearing last… (Janet Hamlin / Associated…)

FT. MEADE, Md. -- A new round of pretrial hearings in the capital murder case of five Sept. 11 plotting suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, opened Monday morning, even as a federal appeals court in Washington has now reversed the only other two convictions of Guantanamo Bay detainees tried in military tribunals.

All five men in the Sept. 11 case, after spending nearly a decade at the U.S. Naval base compound, have pleaded not guilty and in part of the new series of preliminary hearings this week their attorneys will demand more information about secret prison sites where their clients were first held abroad before being transferred to the Cuban facility.

They also hope to acquire new details about the prisoners’ harsh treatment, such as Mohammed’s repeated waterboarding, and plan to use that as evidence that their clients were tortured.

Military and Department of Justice prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, although the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, tried to have a charge of conspiracy removed from the case.  In a motion released Friday, he said there were “significant litigation risks” to trying all five with a joint conspiracy charge instead of separate conspiracy charges against some of them.

But retired Adm. Bruce MacDonald, the convening authority official for the tribunal, said the conspiracy charge was still being reviewed.

The earlier convictions that were reversed in Washington deal with Ali Hamzi al-Bahlul, who allegedly provided material support to terrorists and made Al Qaeda videos, and Salim Hamdan, a driver for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

In the Al-Bahlul case, the civilian appeals court ruled Friday that material support and conspiracy charges against him did not meet the standards for the 2006 Military Commissions Act of 2006. The appellate court dismissed Hamdan’s conviction in October for much the same reasons.

In the complex Sept. 11 case, Mohammed is the accused mastermind of the attacks, serving under Bin Laden. The others are Ramzi Binalshib, the alleged pilot 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.

The hearings are being simulcast at Ft. Meade.

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Richard.Serrano@latimes.com

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