GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA — Five Guantanamo prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attacks returned before a military tribunal Monday, forgoing the protests that turned their last appearance into an unruly 13-hour spectacle.
But the apparent cooperation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has said he masterminded the worst terror attack on U.S. soil, and four codefendants did little to speed up proceedings that have stuck in a legal and political morass for years.
And Mohammed, dressed a white turban and traditional black vest, made clear he still feels a deep disdain for the proceedings, saying “I don’t think there is any justice in this court.”
Defense lawyers spent hours arguing that their clients shouldn’t have to attend the hearing, saying they dredge up bad memories of their harsh treatment in CIA detention. The military judge ruled that the men would not have to attend the hearings at least for the rest of the week.
“Our clients may believe that ... I don’t want to be subjected to this procedure that transports me here, brings up memories, brings up emotions of things that happened to me,” said Jim Harrington, who represents Ramzi Binalshibh, accused of helping to provide support to the hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.
The five men sat quietly at the defense tables under the watchful eyes of military guards and several 9/11 family members at the U.S. base in Cuba. Mohammed, his beard dyed a rust color with henna, serenely read legal papers. Two others responded politely to the judge when asked.
All seemed to cooperate with their attorneys in a specially designed high-tech courtroom that allows the government to muffle sounds so spectators behind a glass wall cannot hear classified information.
The orderly scene was in stark contrast to their arraignment in May on charges that include terrorism and murder. At that session, one prisoner was briefly restrained for acting out, Binalshibh launched into an incoherent rant, the men generally ignored the judge and refused to use the court translation system, and two stood up to pray at one point.
Harrington told the court that the defendants may want to boycott future court sessions because they don’t recognize the U.S. government’s authority, or because their transportation from their high-security cells may remind them of the harsh treatment they endured when confined in the CIA’s overseas network of secret prisons before they came to Guantanamo in September 2006.
Prosecutors want the men to be required to attend court sessions. Army Col. James Pohl ruled that Mohammed and his codefendants would not be forced to attend hearings that were scheduled to run through the end of this week. He said he may require them to attend future pretrial sessions and said they would have to be present for their trial, likely to begin more than a year from now.
He questioned each defendant individually to make sure they understood the consequences of choosing not to attend. Mohammed responded with a brusque “yes,” in Arabic, almost a grunt, before making his one and only statement of the day about the court and justice.
The judge told each man that the trial would go on without them if they were to somehow escape, a notion that prompted a smile of disbelief from Binalshibh. “I’m escaping from custody?” he said in English.
The same question prompted some sarcasm from Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a Pakistani citizen accused of funneling money to the hijackers. “I’ll make sure to leave some notes,” he said in English.