U.S. News

September 11 defendants get "My Lai" massacre film

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks were given a copy of a Hollywood movie about a U.S. massacre of Vietnamese civilians to help them prepare their defense in their mass murder trial, a prosecutor said on Monday.

In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. Military, Sept. 11, 2001 attack co-defendants Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (2nd L) and Waleed Bin Attash (L) sit during a hearing at the U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 19, 2009. REUTERS/Janet Hamlin/Pool

Self-described 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two co-defendants, who are acting as their own attorneys, asked for and were given copies of several movies, prosecutor Robert Swann told the Guantanamo war crimes court.

Among them were “Judgment: The Court Martial of Lt. William Calley,” a 1975 Stanley Kramer film about a U.S. soldier held responsible for the murder of Vietnamese civilians in what came to be known as the My Lai massacre. Harrison Ford played the title character’s superior officer in the movie.

“The camp provided them,” Swann told the court, referring to the movie request. Also provided were copies of the National Geographic films “Inside Mecca” and “Inside the Vatican.”

It was unclear why the defendants wanted the films, though they could be trying to equate the killing of U.S. civilians with the killing of civilians by the U.S. military at My Lai.

Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged al Qaeda co-conspirators are charged with 2,973 counts of murder and could be executed if convicted.

President Barack Obama asked last week for a 60-day freeze in the proceedings and said he would decide by November 16 whether to try them in a revised version of the much-maligned military tribunals or move the cases to regular civilian courts.

The U.S. military judge granted the freeze in the 9-11 case shortly before Monday’s hearing at the U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba. But he held the hearing anyway to hear outstanding requests from the defendants, who opted not to attend.

The chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo tribunals, Navy Captain John Murphy, said federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., New York and Virginia were already reviewing the case files and vying to try the accused September 11 plotters if the cases are moved into the civilian courts.


The Obama administration has ordered the Guantanamo detention camp shut down by January 22 and is still debating what to do with the 226 detainees it holds. Murphy said he still hopes to try 65 of them in military tribunals and that “We are ready to prosecute this case in this court, now.”

Obama has said he considers military tribunals to be an appropriate forum for terrorism trials of Guantanamo captives but would prefer to try them in federal courts if feasible.

The delays frustrated September 11 victims’ relatives who came to Guantanamo to watch the hearing. Several said they felt their loved ones had been forgotten as the years dragged on without trials.

“We are just damned disgusted with the whole business,” said Bob Hemenway, whose son Ronald was killed when a hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon. “We need some justice. We need it now.”

Talat Hamdani, whose paramedic son Salman Hamdani was killed in the World Trade Center, said she was disappointed at not being able to see the defendants she called “those demented people who distorted the faith of Islam.”

“I am a proud Muslim American mother of a proud son who gave his life that day rescuing his fellow Americans,” she said.

Hamdani said the trials should be moved to the federal courts because Guantanamo had tainted “America’s moral integrity” and “I don’t want injustice done in his name.”

But most of the victims’ relatives who have attended Guantanamo hearings are staunch advocates of the tribunals.

Many congressional representatives, Republicans and Democrats alike, also support the tribunals and have tried to block efforts to move Guantanamo prisoners to the United States, where they would enjoy U.S. constitutional rights.

Moving the cases into the federal courts, where the rules are well established, would remove one major criticism of the ever-changing Guantanamo tribunals, which have undergone several revisions and completed only three cases since U.S. President George W. Bush first authorized them after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Obama asked Congress for additional changes to the 2006 law underpinning the current rules, including banning the use of evidence obtained through coercion and making it more difficult to use hearsay evidence. The changes were approved in the Senate but are still pending in the House of Representatives.

Editing by Tom Brown and Todd Eastham