Accused 9/11 plotters defiant at Guantanamo arraignment

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba Sat May 5, 2012 11:50pm EDT

1 of 7. Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is shown during his military commission hearing in this courtroom sketch reviewed and approved for release by a U.S. military security official, at Guantanamo Bay Navy Base, Cuba, May 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Janet Hamlin/Pool

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks refused to answer a U.S. military judge's questions on Saturday 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 U.S. 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.


Yemeni defendant Ramzi Binalshibh knelt on the courtroom floor and prayed as a row of burly guards kept a close watch.

Later he stood up shouting and seemed to be saying that the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was being held at Guantanamo. He said tricks were being played on the defendants inside the prison camp and "maybe they are going to kill us at the camp ... and say that we are committing suicide."

When Yemeni defendant Walid bin Attash refused to enter the courtroom, guards strapped him into a restraining chair and wheeled him in. They later brought him the prosthetic leg that replaced one he lost during a 1997 battle in Afghanistan.

Bin Attash was freed him from the restraints after promising to behave but stripped off his shirt and undershirt when his attorney said he had been scarred by abuse in custody.

The defendants refused to listen through earphones to Arabic translations of the judge's questions, so the judge ordered the translation broadcast over a loudspeaker, which sometimes drowned out the conversation between the lawyers and the judge.

An attorney for bin Attash, Cheryl Borman, who wore a black hijab and long black robe, told the court that mistreatment of her client at Guantanamo had interfered with his ability to take part in the proceedings. She asked that female paralegals and FBI agents sitting with the prosecution team dress with cultural sensitivity so that the defendants would not be forced to look away as their religion requires. The women in question were wearing pantsuits and knee-length skirts and blazers.

The defendants prayed and chatted among themselves during recesses, and passed around a copy of The Economist magazine.

When they refused to answer his questions, the judge ruled that they would be represented by the lawyers assigned to them. In addition to their military lawyers, each has a civilian attorney with experience in death penalty cases.


The defendants were all held for more than three years in secret CIA prisons before being sent to Guantanamo in 2006, and all have said they were tortured there. The CIA said Mohammed alone was subjected 183 times to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.

But when the defense attorneys tried to discuss the way the defendants had been treated and used the word “"torture" a closed-circuit TV feed of the hearings for journalists and family members of victims was interrupted.

The judge grew testy when the defense lawyers repeatedly tried to raise the torture issue. “"We'll get to it when I said we'll get to it," Pohl snapped at one of the lawyers.

A small group of people whose relatives died in the attacks were chosen by lottery to travel to the Caribbean base to watch the hearing from behind a glass wall in the spectators' gallery.

Cliff Russell, whose firefighter brother Stephen Russell, 40, was killed at the World Trade Center, said he was comfortable with the death penalty for the defendants and wished them "the worst death possible."

"I think I have all the evidence I need," said Russell, who helped recover the remains of 23 people from the ashes and rubble of the Trade Center. "I tasted death, literally."

He said the taste lingered in his throat and he hoped that the trial "would be the process that gets rid of that for me."

(Editing by Tom Brown and Anthony Boadle)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (9)
Karhu wrote:
These are innocent men being paraded as patsies. The American public is so gullible. Each of these men have been tortured endlessly for years and given all kinds of mind-altering drugs. They’ve been experimented on. They were illegally kidnapped from other places and brought to America. Imagine if Pakistan or Afghanistan unilaterally just decided to walk into the USA to arrest (kidnap) marines who raped, tortured and killed their their innocent civilians. “Oh, but we’re different. We’re the superior race and have permission to just march into anyone’s sovereign land and kidnap who we wish,” says the supremacist American. “Where America is concerned, there is no such thing as international law.” I would love to see all the things just about anyone would admit to after being tortured as much as these guys have been tortured. … and Americans dared to think of themselves as “civilized.” Every crooked regime understands this much: tortured people will admit to ANYTHING. No it is not a civilized society.

Take a look at their accusers – the ones assuring you that these are in fact the ones who plotted 911. Their accusers are the same ones who told you – with 110% surety – that Saddam Hussein not only had weapons of mass destruction – but that he was just about to use them to attack the USA. We now know with 110% surety that was a lie – a big lie – the biggest and deadliest lie told told to you in your lifetime. A lie that cost the world a genocide and 15 trillion dollars of your money. Yet, today, you still believe this gang of thugs. Wow. How fickle-brained can you be? Is there a limit to your fickle index? Apparently not. Have you not even wits enough to figure out that all those who made “honest mistakes” ALL got promoted. Huh? That’s right – PROMOTED .. not fired. Our 10 trillion dollar security system was compromised by cave-dwellers and you believe every word the usual liars have told you.

May 06, 2012 4:22am EDT  --  Report as abuse
StigTW wrote:
Flying family members around sounds like a show trial for the court of public opinion not a ‘fair’ trial for the accused. Why not just show everyone? (I doubt the defendents would object)

May 06, 2012 4:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Dave1968 wrote:
actualy new york would have been barack obama’s show trial. As far as I’m concernd everyone of them that was tortured should be set free.

May 06, 2012 7:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.