GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The five men accused of the September 11 attacks on the United States disrupted and delayed the Guantanamo war court on Thursday when they refused to leave their cells for a hearing at the remote U.S. military base in Cuba where they are held.
The boycott bogged down proceedings at the controversial court at Guantanamo Bay, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Walid bin Attash and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi are accused of murder and conspiracy in the 2001 attacks using hijacked passenger airliners.
Prosecutions at the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War Two were halted by President Barack Obama soon after his inauguration in January but the military judges continue to hold hearings on legal motions in case the trials are revived.
Thursday’s hearing dealt with the mental competency of Binalshibh and al-Hawsawi.
The boycott stalled proceedings for more than two hours before bin Attash, al-Hawsawi and Aziz Ali finally were brought to the high-security courtroom from the secret camp where they are imprisoned. But al-Hawsawi soon demanded to leave after complaining he would not be allowed to speak.
Then bin Attash, given five minutes to address the court, complained that the presiding judge, Army Colonel Steven Henley, had not responded to letters the five men had written to him “a long time ago.”
“If you don’t have enough patience to take this case, just give it to a different judge,” bin Attash said. “We view the judge and prosecution as one person. There’s no difference.”
Mohammed and Aziz Ali, both Pakistanis, al-Hawsawi, a Saudi, and Binalshibh and bin Attash, both Yemenis, could face the death penalty if convicted of murder, conspiracy, terrorism and other charges.
Binalshibh’s lawyer, Navy Commander Suzanne Lachelier, asked the court to allow a defense consultant to examine CT scans of her client’s brain and perform further tests, including possibly an MRI, to “determine whether any lesions in his brain affect his cognitive functioning.”
Lachelier said Binalshibh has been diagnosed with “delusional disorder.” Defense court filings said he had a mental disease for which doctors prescribed psychotropic drugs used to treat schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
A court censor cut off Lachelier when she began talking about Binalshibh’s complaints that he had been subjected to sleep deprivation, which critics have derided as an abusive technique used to soften prisoners for interrogation.
“The government can’t hide the fact that they used sleep deprivation,” Lachelier said before the audio feed to observers and reporters outside the courtroom was cut off.
The audio is on a 40-second delay that allows a court security officer to hit a button to block material believed to be classified.
Prosecutor Clayton Trivett later said Binalshibh’s complaints of sleep deprivation could be explained by the diagnosis that he suffers from delusions.
Binalshibh has accused guards of pumping foul smells and loud noises into his cell and “vibrating his bed” to keep him awake, Trivett said.
“The government’s position is that it’s not happening and it’s never been happening,” Trivett said.
Relatives of some of the victims of the Sept 11. attacks on New York and Washington sat in a viewing area in the courtroom. Judith Reiss of Yardley, Pennsylvania, had pinned to her blouse a picture of her son, Joshua, a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald who was killed in the World Trade Center.
Editing by Tom Brown and John O'Callaghan