GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - An accused September 11 conspirator was hustled out of the Guantanamo war crimes courtroom on Monday when he refused to stop shouting during a chaotic hearing that was cut short because one of the lawyers was ill.
“I have the right to talk!” Yemeni defendant Ramzi Binalshibh yelled in English.
After he ignored repeated warnings to be quiet, the judge ejected Binalshibh for disruptive conduct and guards in camouflage uniforms escorted him out of the courtroom at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.
The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, was questioning the five defendants about whether they understood their right to be present in court in order to assist in their defense.
Binalshibh and the alleged mastermind of the hijacked planes plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, responded with complaints about restrictions imposed during their meetings with lawyers.
The judge said he would deal with that issue later. Mohammed eventually relented but Binalshibh persisted, complaining loudly of sleep deprivation, among other things.
“You cannot make me stop talking,” he yelled at the judge.
“Remove him now,” the judge ordered after several warnings. The exchange continued as three guards led Binalshibh away out of microphone range but the judge appeared to have the last word: “Yes I can.”
Court was recessed about 20 minutes after it started so ailing defense lawyer Cheryl Bormann could go to the hospital emergency room.
Bormann, who represents Yemeni defendant Walid bin Attash, was hoarse and barely able to speak. Her doctor ordered bed rest and court was adjourned until 9 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.
The judge was expected to decide this week whether to halt pretrial hearings in the slow-moving case until early next year to allow time to fix ongoing problems with the Pentagon computer system.
At a hearing in August, defense lawyers said their emails and work files were vanishing and that prosecutors and defense lawyers had temporarily been given access to each other’s files.
Pentagon technicians were scheduled to testify this week about the extent of the problems and how much time and money it would take to fix.
Technical advisers have said it would take at least three months once a contract was signed and money allocated.
The five defendants are alleged al Qaeda conspirators who could be executed if convicted of charges that include mass murder, terrorism and hijacking.
The defendants were captured in 2002 and 2003 and were first charged at Guantanamo in 2008. The tribunals and the charges were revised by the Obama administration and the defendants were arraigned on the current version in May 2012.
A week after the United States observed the 12th anniversary of the hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, the chief prosecutor, Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, said he sympathized with those who have grown frustrated that the trial still had not started.
He said the case was complex and the court was methodically working its way through the litigation.
“I want this thing to move. Justice delayed at some point really is justice denied,” Martins told journalists at the Guantanamo base on Sunday.
“I feel the impatience of those who want it to move faster. That said, we don’t want to rush to failure and we want to do justice, not set some sort of standard that’s based purely on speed.”
Editing by Kevin Gray, Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen