GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused chief plotter of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, scoffed at the military commission that will try his case before skipping Tuesday’s hearing and winning the right to wear a Mujahadeen’s camouflage uniform when he does appear.
“I don’t think there’s any justice in this court,” Mohammed, his long beard dyed a reddish hue, said through a translator before a military tribunal Monday at the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was his first public comment since a hearing in 2008, when he said he wished to be found guilty and martyred.
Mohammed and two co- defendants chose to forfeit their right to attend Tuesday’s hearing by signing a written waiver under a process approved Monday by the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl. The two other defendants chose to attend Tuesday’s session.
With a trial before a military judge and jury still a year or more away, lawyers for the five men have filed a barrage of motions seeking to define or expand the legal rights they will be afforded as they attempt to air grievances about their treatment in captivity.
The long-delayed week of hearings, initially scheduled for June, is aimed at defining the rules of a trial for Mohammed and the four others accused of plotting the attacks that used hijacked passenger planes to kill almost 3,000 people at the the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.
All five men appeared attentive and cooperative Monday as they answered the judge’s questions, with two of them speaking in English and others relying on an interpreter.
The demeanor marked a change from their arraignment on terrorism charges on May 5, when what was expected to be a simple proceeding turned into a 13-hour session with outbursts from defendants and interruptions as they sought to pray.
One defendant was wheeled into the courtroom for the arraignment in May in restraints after the judge said he had refused to attend voluntarily.
Pohl said Monday he would give the five men an option each day this week as to whether to attend that day’s hearing.
“The accused can, prior to assembly, choose voluntarily not to attend a session” as long as “he understands his right to be present and what his actions may or may not mean,” Pohl said.
He stopped short of making the ruling permanent, saying he hadn’t decided whether to revisit the issue when a jury is convened.
The judge Tuesday settled a dispute over what the defendants may wear in court. A lawyer for Mohammed, Capt. Jason Wright, said his client wants to wear a military-style camouflage uniform, similar to what he wore as a member of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan during Soviet occupation.
Marine Major Joshua Kirk, a prosecuting attorney, said camouflage poses a threat to “good order and safety,” and clothing shouldn’t be used “as a vehicle for propaganda.”
Pohl said he would permit camouflage outfits as long as they aren’t part of any U.S. military uniform.
The defendants so far have appeared in court wearing traditional Pakistani-style long shirts and vests with turbans.
Defense lawyers haven’t disclosed whether or how they will challenge the evidence of their clients’ involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.
In public to date, much of the defense strategy rests on exposing the interrogation techniques used on the men after they were captured, as well as the conditions of their continued detention at the base at Guantanamo Bay.
David Nevin, Mohammed’s chief counsel, defended his client’s opposition to the military commission at a news conference Monday.
“See whether you can come to the conclusion that he’s wrong,” Nevin said. “It’s a court that’s designed in a way to achieve a conviction.”