October 20, 2015 / 5:26 PM / 4 years ago

Lawyers debate self-representation for Guantanamo 9/11 suspects

(Reuters) - Defense lawyers for accused 9/11 plotters on Tuesday debated how the five Guantanamo Bay suspects could potentially represent themselves given security restrictions in their death penalty cases.

A pre-trial hearing stalled on Monday when Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni accused of running an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, told his attorneys he no longer trusted them. He asked the military court how he might represent himself.

“This is a terrible situation and I would counsel anyone against (self-representation),” said James Connell, a lawyer for accused al Qaeda money mover Ammar al Baluchi. “Essentially, pro se representation at Guantanamo is impossible.”

Government-appointed defense attorneys spent about an hour talking to the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, about how the five suspects could defend themselves without access to legal resources and relevant classified materials.

Having lawyers on standby to deal with classified information on behalf of the prisoners would relegate the defendants to “servant” status, argued David Nevin, attorney for the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Pohl is drafting an advisement to bin Attash regarding his rights to self-representation. Proceedings are scheduled to resume on Wednesday.

Government lawyers largely agreed with Pohl’s proposed document, suggesting only minor changes. Bin Attash’s lawyer, Cheryl Bormann, said she needed more time to explain the proposed advisement to him.

Pre-trial hearings for bin Attash and his accused co-conspirators have been derailed since last year, when defense lawyers learned the Federal Bureau of Investigation was monitoring them.

Jim Harrington, an attorney for suspect Ramzi Bin al Shibh, revealed in April 2014 that the FBI had questioned a member of his defense team. Court proceedings were postponed pending an investigation.

The results of the investigation were slated to be discussed this week, including whether Harrington will continue to represent Bin al Shibh.

Almost 3,000 people were killed when hijackers slammed airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

The hearing was held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base prison in Cuba. It was monitored over closed-circuit television at a press room at Fort Meade, outside Washington.

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