WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Guantanamo prisoner accused of masterminding the September 11 attacks has met for the first time with the U.S. military lawyer assigned to defend him on war crimes charges that could lead to his execution, the attorney said on Friday.
At least for now, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has accepted Navy Capt. Prescott Prince as his defense attorney, Prince said by telephone after returning from the remote U.S. naval base in Cuba where the United States holds foreign terrorism suspects.
“I advised him of his rights,” Prince said, adding, “I cannot report anything my client told me.”
Nor was he allowed to discuss the conditions under which Mohammed is held, he said. But he said he met with him on Thursday and planned to return to the Guantanamo base in two weeks to meet with him again.
“I‘m not sure he knows where he wants to go with this,” Prince said of Mohammed, al Qaeda’s No. 3, who was arrested in a raid in Pakistan in March 2003.
Some prisoners facing charges in the Guantanamo war court have refused representation by U.S. military lawyers and declined to even meet with them.
Mohammed was one of six Guantanamo prisoners charged in February with direct involvement in the plot that killed nearly 3,000 people when hijackers crashed passenger planes into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania in 2001.
U.S. military prosecutors charged the prisoners with war crimes that include murder, conspiring with al Qaeda, and terrorism. Before a trial date can be set, a Pentagon appointee must approve the charges and accept or reject the prosecutors’ request to execute the prisoners if they are convicted.
Mohammed has said he planned every aspect of the September 11 attacks but his confession may be tainted by the CIA’s admission it subjected him to aggressive interrogation tactics, including the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
He and other “high-value” prisoners transferred to Guantanamo from secret CIA custody are held in a secret camp, separate from other captives at the detention camp.
Prince is a naval reservist who was assigned to the Guantanamo war court’s defense team on his recent return from Iraq, where he was a lawyer in the unit that oversaw detainee operations.
Like many of the Guantanamo defense lawyers, he has said he does not believe his client can get a fair trial at Guantanamo and should be tried in a regular U.S. court.
Editing by Peter Cooney