U.S. News

September 11 suspect calls U.S. trial "inquisition"

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The suspected planner of the September 11 attacks denounced the Guantanamo war crimes court as an “inquisition” and failed to persuade the U.S. military judge on Wednesday to disqualify himself as biased against Muslims.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is shown in this photograph taken during his arrest on March 1, 2003. REUTERS/Courtesy U.S.News & World Report

“We are your enemy,” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told the judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann. “You are an officer in the United States armed forces ... Myself and my brothers will be judged by the same armed forces that are killing our people.”

Mohammed spoke in English as he outlined objections at a pretrial hearing to Kohlmann on behalf of himself and four accused September 11 co-conspirators, who face a potential death sentence if convicted.

Mohammed accused Kohlmann of disrespecting Islam. He said the judge lacked capital-case experience and that his service from 1995 to 1997 under the officer who is now the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo means he could not give the suspects an unbiased hearing.

Mohammed also said Kohlmann’s plans to retire on April 1 could lead him to unfairly rush the case.

“I would never believe that you are capable of presiding over this case,” said Mohammed, who was acting as his own attorney. “In your eyes I am Islamic extremist.”

“We are part of an inquisition rather than a civil or military case,” he said.

Kohlmann denied the disqualification request on all grounds and said four times the defense accusations were “completely wrong.”

Summing it up, he said, “I find that I am qualified to serve as the military judge in this military commission.”

The challenge to Kohlmann came after a round of defense questioning on Tuesday that is a unique feature of military courts and the tribunals established to try terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.

Mohammed and four other defendants -- Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi, Walid bin Attash and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali -- are charged with conspiring with al Qaeda to kill civilians in the September 11 attacks, which triggered U.S. President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism.

The men face 2,973 counts of murder, one for each person killed when hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Mohammed has claimed responsibility for 31 attacks and plots, including the September 11 attacks and the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Mohammed’s speaking for his fellow defendants, from his table in the front of the courtroom, reflected the informal leadership position he has assumed in the case.

He was assigned to speak third on Wednesday, but his fellow defendants deferred to him.

Mohammed on Monday offered to meet with Binalshibh to persuade him to end his refusal to appear in court and avert a forced removal from his cell. Kohlmann said no, but allowed him and the other defendants to write letters, and Binalshibh showed up voluntarily the next day.

Mohammed also asked Kohlmann to break early on Tuesday to allow for Islamic practices during the holy month of Ramadan and to impose a stricter dress code on women court participants, which the judge denied. Mohammed’s complaint was believed to be directed at a prosecution paralegal whose shoulders were bare.

Those denials formed more grist for Mohammed’s objections. “I do not believe that your government respects Muslims,” he said.

Editing by Jane Sutton and David Wiessler