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Hearing In 9/11 Case Suggests Long Battle Ahead

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
May 5, 2012

The self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — also known as KSM — and four other accused terrorists entered a military courtroom in Guantanamo Saturday with a plan: to disrupt their arraignment at every turn.

Mohammed and the four other men refused to listen to the judge, refused to participate and wouldn’t even wear the headphones that provided Arabic translation. Instead, they focused on the Quran and stared into the middle distance.

Their strategy was caught in one early exchange between Judge Michael Pohl and Mohammed’s attorney, David Nevin. “Does he want to put the earphones back on?” the judge asked Nevin. Nevin paused, looked at KSM, and then said, “I doubt it.”

Dramatic Entrances

The first of the Sept. 11 defendants to enter the courtroom was Ramzi bin al-Shibh. He allegedly wanted to come to the U.S. in 2001, and be one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, but he couldn’t get a visa. Prosecutors say he took another job instead, as a terrorist financier.

Binalshibh allegedly served as a Hamburg-based deputy to KSM, transferring money to some of the hijackers and even tried to enroll in flight school with the other hijackers. He came into the courtroom wearing the traditional Muslim shalwar chemise and a white skullcap. He sat down, stroked his beard, opened a Quran and began to pray.

The entrances of the other defendants sent similar subtle messages. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi and KSM’s nephew, came in wearing biker sunglasses.

Walid bin Attash, a 33-year-old Yemeni, followed, but in a different way: he was, literally, tied to a chair on wheels. Officials say he struggled with guards outside the courtroom and they had to restrain him to get him to appear. His arms were tied down so a guard had to carefully put Attash’s glasses on his nose. Attash lost a leg in Afghanistan; his prosthetic arrived to the courtroom about five minutes after he did. He’s been charged with being the number two in the so-called “Plane Operation.”

The last defendant to appear was the most dramatic: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has said that he masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks “from A to Z,” shuffled into the courtroom with a phalanx of guards. His co-defendants watched him carefully as he sat down. He was wearing white and had hennaed his long beard to a bright red. He was wearing glasses and looked down the line of the defense tables making eye contact with each man. It became clear, just minutes later, that they had a plan.

When KSM declined to answer Pohl’s questions, the other defendants followed suit. When he prayed, they prayed. He read the Quran, they picked up the book too. At one point, two of the men passed around a recent issue of The Economist. It was as if the legal battle being waged in the room had little to do with them.

The Issue Of Torture

To hear the defense attorneys tell it, the biggest issue in the case is not whether their clients committed the Sept. 11 attacks, but rather how they were treated when in U.S. custody. The CIA has admitted to waterboarding two of the defendants — KSM and Ramzi bin al-Shibh — and that was the elephant in the room all day.

The defense attorneys said that before the proceeding even started, torture need to be addressed. Their clients, they said, were boycotting the proceedings and acting out because of the way they had been treated in the past.

They claimed that their clients weren’t wearing headphones for translation because it reminded them of the torture they suffered. One of the techniques used in enhanced interrogation is to put headphones on a prisoner and play loud music. The lawyers suggested the translation coming through the earphones reminded their clients of that.

The defense strategy suggests that the Sept. 11 trial, which has been almost a decade in the making, is going to be a battle. The defense already has filed a motion that argues that the case wasn’t properly brought to the military commissions. Should they win that motion, the trial of KSM and the alleged Sept. 11 hijackers would go back to square one. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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