9/11 defendants ignore judge at Guantanamo hearing

By Ben Fox

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 7:50 p.m. MDT

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — They knelt in prayer, ignored the judge and wouldn't listen to Arabic translations as they confronted nearly 3,000 counts of murder. The self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and four co-defendants defiantly disrupted an arraignment that dragged into Saturday night in the opening act of the long-stalled effort to prosecute them in a military court.

It wasn't until more than seven hours into the hearing that prosecutors at the U.S. military base in Cuba began reading the charges against the men, including 2,976 counts of murder and terrorism in the 2001 attacks that sent hijacked jetliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted 9/11 architect, and the four men accused of aiding the 9/11 conspiracy put off their pleas until a later date. Lawyers were still discussing trial dates Saturday night; another hearing was set for June 12.

Earlier, Mohammed cast off his earphones providing Arabic translations of the proceeding and refused to answer Army Col. James Pohl's questions or acknowledge he understood them. All five men refused to participate in the hearing; two passed around a copy of The Economist magazine and leafed through the articles.

Walid bin Attash was confined to a restraint chair when he came into court, released only after he promised to behave.

Ramzi Binalshibh began praying alongside his defense table, followed by Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, in the middle of the hearing; Binalshibh then launched into a tirade in which he compared a prison official to the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and declared that he was in danger.

"Maybe they will kill me and say I committed suicide," he said in a mix of Arabic and broken English.

The detainees' lawyers spent hours questioning the judge about his qualifications to hear the case and suggested their clients were being mistreated at the hearing, in a strategy that could pave the way for future appeals. Mohammed was subjected to a strip search and "inflammatory and unnecessary" treatment before court, said his attorney, David Nevin.

It was the defendants' first appearance in more than three years after stalled efforts to try them for the terror attacks, in which hijackers steered four commercial jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a western Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.

The defendants' behavior outraged 9/11 family members watching on closed-circuit video feeds around the United States at East Coast military bases. One viewer shouted, "C'mon, are you kidding me?" at the Fort Hamilton base in Brooklyn.

"They're engaging in jihad in a courtroom," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the plane that flew into the Pentagon. She watched the proceeding from Brooklyn.

A handful of people who lost family members in the attacks and were selected by a lottery to attend the proceedings watched in the courtroom.

The Obama administration renewed plans to try the men at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay after a bid to try the men in New York City blocks from the trade center site faced political opposition. It adopted new rules with Congress that forbade testimony obtained through torture or cruel treatment, and officials now say that defendants could be tried as fairly here as in a civilian court.

Human rights groups and defense lawyers say the secrecy of Guantanamo and the military commissions, or tribunals, will make it impossible to defend them. They argued the U.S. kept the case out of civilian court to prevent disclosure of the treatment of prisoners like Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.

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