GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A U.S. military judge refused on Thursday to delay the June 5 arraignment of five Guantanamo prisoners who could face execution if convicted of plotting the September 11 attacks.
The ruling cleared the way to begin hearings in the first Guantanamo war crimes court case alleging a direct link to the hijacked plane attacks that triggered the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.
Military defense lawyers said last week they could not adequately prepare by June because the Pentagon had not yet granted security clearances to some members of the defense teams nor provided a secure place for them to view secret intelligence documents.
Prosecutors said in their written reply that those issues had been resolved so “Let’s go forward.”
The judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, stuck with his original arraignment date in the case against alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other prisoners charged with conspiring with al Qaeda to murder civilians.
The five also face 2,973 counts of murder, one for each person killed in 2001 when hijacked passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Kohlmann’s ruling was announced after a pretrial hearing for another accused al Qaeda conspirator at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. That defendant, Ibrahim al Qosi, was allowed a phone call with his family in Sudan on Thursday to ask their help finding him a lawyer to replace the U.S. military attorney he rejected.
Qosi said he did not want any military or civilian lawyer appointed by the U.S. government to defend him on charges of providing material support for terrorism and conspiring with al Qaeda.
The judge, Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, asked if he wanted to exercise his right to hire a civilian lawyer of his own choosing, at his own expense.
Qosi, a 47-year-old with a gray beard and white skull cap, said that would be difficult given his circumstances.
“I’ve been imprisoned here for 6 and 1/2 years. I have no contact with the outside world,” Qosi said through an interpreter. “The only way to accomplish that issue is to allow me to contact my family in Sudan ... They will be the ones to choose that lawyer.”
The judge ordered Qosi’s military lawyer, whom he has refused to even see, to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange a phone call with Qosi’s relatives in Khartoum by July 1.
The call was completed with unusual speed, giving the sluggish pace of most proceedings in the court set up by the Bush administration set up to try foreign captives outside regular U.S. civilian and military courts.
The military has been working with the ICRC to allow captives at the U.S. naval base in Cuba to speak by phone with their relatives at least annually and a spokeswoman said 35 had been granted hour-long calls since March.
Qosi is accused of serving as a bodyguard, driver and logistics operative for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The charges allege he served on an al Qaeda mortar crew and helped bin Laden escape into the Tora Bora mountains after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that followed the September 11 attacks. He would face life in prison if convicted.
Qosi was one of 10 prisoners charged in the first Guantanamo court system, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as illegal in 2006. Thirteen captives, including the five accused September 11 conspirators, are now facing charges in the revised system, which human rights groups and defense attorneys have denounced as a farce and a travesty of justice.
Editing by Vicki Allen