9/11 Plotters: ‘Accused Refuses to Answer’ in Guantanamo Bay Arraignment
(FORT MEADE, Md.) — The arraignment of the five men charged with plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has gotten off to a chaotic start in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom as they have chosen not to participate in today’s proceedings. The five men face 2,976 counts of murder that could lead to the death penalty if they are convicted by the military tribunal trying their case.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn., has not responded to questions posed to him by Col. James Pohl, who is presiding over the case.
Neither have his fellow defendants Ramzi Binalshibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa al Hawsawi who have also refused to respond to any of the questions posed by Pohl.
“Accused refuses to answer,” Pohl said repeatedly after he asked procedural questions of each of the defendants to ensure they were comfortable with their legal counsel. Without any responses, Pohl approved their current military and civilian counsels by default.
Once the procedural questions are concluded, if they decided to not reply when asked for a plea, an additional hearing may have to take place.
Mohammed has admitted to having conceived the attacks; the others are charged with having facilitated the attacks financially and logistically.
Saturday’s court appearance marked the first time in three years that the five 9/11 co-conspirators had been seen in public. Wearing their white prison uniforms, most of the defendants wore white skullcaps, Mohammed wore a white turban he had apparently fashioned himself.
Mohammed’s long beard appears to be brown in color, not grey as had been seen in earlier photographs.
The proceedings began with Pohl quickly noting that it appeared that some if not all of the defendants were not wearing the earphones that would provide them with simultaneous Arabic translation.
Though his client speaks English, Mohammed’s civilian attorney, David Nevin, told Pohl he was not sure if his client would choose to participate at today’s arraignment given concerns he had about the process.
Pohl eventually had to bring Arabic translators into the courtroom who would translate over a speaker system to ensure that the defendants could understand the proceedings given that they were not wearing their earphones.
Judge James Pohl noted that Walid bin Atash was sitting in restraints at his chair. After a lengthy back and forth, his military attorney was finally able to provide Pohl with enough reassurance that he would behave in court, and finally the restraints were removed.
The proceedings also came to a halt when Ramzi Binalshibh suddenly stood up to go into his daily prayers. The courtroom fell completely silent as he knelt and stood several times in Muslim prayer.
The defendants’ behavior was in stark contrast to their 2008 arraignment when the co- conspirators used the opportunity to talk to each other in court. That was apparently the first time they had seen each other since the start of their detentions.
During that arraignment Mohammed had boasted of planning the attacks “and said he hoped the legal proceedings would lead to his becoming a martyr.
That case was dismissed in 2009 after President Obama suspended the military commission process in preparation for closing the detention center at Guantanamo.
Saturday’s arraignment is the start of what is expected to be a lengthy legal proceeding as the trial is expected to begin a year from now.
Observing today’s legal proceedings behind a glass window in the rear of the courtroom were six family members of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks as well as a small number of journalists.
They had been chosen by lottery among the 250 family members who had applied to watch the proceedings in person.
The Pentagon set up closed circuit viewing locations at various military bases along the east coast for family members who could not attend in person.
The viewing locations were at Fort Hamilton, N.Y.; Fort Devens, Mass.; Fort Meade, Md.; and Joint Base Mcguire-Dix-Lakehurst in N.J.
A separate viewing location for journalists was set up at Fort Meade.
The five 9/11 plotters were all originally held in CIA’s secret prisons and were transferred to Guantanamo in Sept. 2006.
During their CIA detentions they were subject to controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The revised military commission process restricts the use of testimony gathered from coerced confessions.
On Friday, Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor in the case, had told reporters “This is a system worthy of the nation’s confidence.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio