A military tribunal in Guantanamo continued its pre-trial hearings in the case of the alleged 9/11 attacks mastermind and four alleged co-conspirators. Frontline reporter Arun Rath is in Guantanamo following the hearings.
In my conversation with Anchor Marco Werman, I tell him that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other defendants did not appear in court Friday, but during the week, their presence has been noticeably subdued compared to five months ago when they were formally charged.
Then, the defendants made defiant outbursts and broke into prayer during the proceedings.
Mohammed this time, was allowed by the judge to make a speech in which he criticized the US government for committing offenses in the name of protecting national security.
Also, the hearing is getting a lot less attention both by the media and the Presidential candidates this time around.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is accused of organizing the September 11th terrorist attacks, while the four others are charged with providing support for the hijackings.
The men could face the death penalty if convicted.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World, the co-production of the BBC WorldService, PRI WGBH, Boston. Pre-trial hearings continue today in Guantanamo in the case involving the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators did not appear in court this time. The judge presiding over the military tribunal had previously said they didn’t have to. Reporter Arun Rath of our partner program Frontline on PBS is in Guantanamo covering the hearings. Arun, so what happened in court today without the defendants present?
Arun Rath: Well they picked up in the middle of a discussion they left off yesterday about dealing with witnesses. Basically the defense is unhappy with the current situation where the prosecution is essentially the gatekeeper on relevance for the witnesses, which they’re saying they shouldn’t be, it puts them on an omniful, position. And that’s because the government, the prosecution is also in charge of determining what information is classified. So the defense is all going pretty convincingly and this puts them at a distinctive disadvantage, because in terms of going into detail about the relevance of the witnesses, in essence they would be tipping their hand directly to the prosecution, directly at the people that they are fighting against in this [xx] process.
Werman: Now, this also kind of feeds into some other complicated part of this hearing. How to classify Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? Isn’t he straight up an enemy combatant?
Rath: Yeah, that is how he has been defined. Yeah.
Werman: And yet they are also calling him a participant in the CIA program.
Rath: Yeah, that’s one of the most peculiar uses of the term participant that I think any of us have heard here. One of the biggest issues here is whether or not the issue of the mistreatment of these men can come up in court. And the argument the government is using and it’s one that just amazes people is that they are saying that because Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a participant in a CIA program, meaning that they have used him and therefore he can’t talk about it, basically he is centrally like a CIA employee and is restricted by those rules.
Werman: So how can he be an enemy combatant and a CIA employee at the same time? And the judge says the fact that the defendants were tortured is not relevant.
Rath: Right. Well that question itself hasn’t really been directly answered.
Werman: So Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t in court today but he has been in court earlier this week. What have you seen? What has he said?
Rath: Well at first, everyone here was struck by the fact that he talked and made it in the arraignment. A lot of people call it a circus. They disrupted the court multiple times. One of the defendants took out their shirt. They would interrupt. They stood up for unscheduled prayers. They were much better behaved this time around. And it was noticeable. But then, midway through the week, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed asked for the opportunity to say something to the court and much to everyone’s surprise that the judge allowed him. And he went on basically die or try for several minutes, and he talked about when he remembered the thousands gild on September 11th that he wanted America also to remember what he called millions dead Americans killed across the world. The President can take someone and throw him in the sea, with just clearly in reference to Osama Bin Laden in the name of national security for the American citizens, meaning referring to those drum strikes in Yemen this year. It was a pretty amazing moment that he was given free rein to do that. Afterwards the judge said this is never going to happen again.
Werman: Yeah, and pretty amazing that you’re in the courtroom to see that happen. I mean, I look on Twitter and it feels like you’re the only journalist who’s down there. How many journalists are covering this hearing?
Rath: It’s been kind of disturbing Marco. I mean we’ve been commenting on this. There are 25 reporters down here. Actually a couple have already left around mid-week. And this is compared to closely 60 back in May when they had people that were waiting to get in as well. When I was here in May it was much more of a big deal to win the lottery to get into the courtroom gallery. And this time it was pretty much, if you wanted to go, you could get in one way or the other. I know it’s an election season, but let’s face it, Guantanamo detaining policy, the military commission, it’s not an issue in the election. Nobody wants to debate it. And I think people’s attentions are just elsewhere.
Werman: Arun let me just ask you one more question. It was announced today that Major Nidal Hassn who’s on trial for a shooting rampage must shave his beard before going into court. KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has a big beard, no problem with him in a courtroom or in a military tribunal wearing the beard. Why the difference?
Rath: The big difference is that Major Hasan, he is in the Army. And he is being tried in a court Marshall, so he is subject to their rules. I mean he has to cut his facial hair and comply with what the Army says, along those lines. Mohammed is an enemy combatant in the military commission. So he is in a different position. Also, we weren’t exact this week when he said he was allowed toâ€¦ obviously he has his full beard now, but he was also granted permission this week to wear what he deems as his native attire, meaning the camouflage vest, that he is now wearing probably to court.
Werman: Arun Rath with our partner program Frontline on PBS, speaking with us from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Thank you very much Arun.
Rath: Thanks Marco.
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