June 19, 2013
Accused 9/11 plotters defiant at Guantanamo arraignment
Five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks refused to answer a US military judge's questions in a chaotic court hearing in which defense lawyers sought to cast the war crimes tribunal as unfair.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed architect of the hijacked plane attacks in 2001, and his four co-defendants exercised their right to indefinitely delay entering a plea to murder and terrorism charges that carry the death penalty.
The disorderly 13-hour arraignment hearing in a top-security courtroom at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base in Cuba was marked by the defiance and outbursts of the defendants. The military tribunal was adjourned until June 12.
The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, said it would be at least a year before the trial started.
The Islamist militants are accused of conspiring with Osama bin Laden, murder in violation of the laws of war, hijacking, terrorism and other charges stemming from the 2001 attacks that propelled the United States into a deadly, costly and ongoing global war against al Qaeda and its supporters.
Two defendants insisted that the charge sheet be read out and it took prosecutors two-and-a-half hours to read the portion describing the highjackings. But they did not read the appendix listing the names of all 2,976 people killed when the seized jetliners slammed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
A previous attempt to prosecute the four men in Guantanamo was halted when the Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to move the case into a New York federal court.
Saturday's hearing was the first time the detainees had been seen in public in about three years. Mohammed, a 47-year-old Pakistani, looked haggard and his full, scraggly beard was tinted red with henna. He wore a white turban and white tunic.
As he and his co-defendants refused to answer Pohl's questions, the exasperated judge struggled to keep the hearing on track. "?Why is this so hard?" he asked at one point.
Defense attorney David Nevin said Mohammed refused to respond to the judge's questions because "?he is deeply concerned about the fairness of the proceeding" and had been tortured.