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9/11 defendant agrees to separate trial at Guantanamo

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Alleged 9/11 plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh agrees with his military judge that he should face a separate trial to let the accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and three other accused co-conspirators make progress in their case, the lawyer for the alleged terrorist said Wednesday morning.

Jim Harrington, Bin al Shibh’s civilian defense attorney, said his team filed its brief just before 9 a.m. Wednesday in support of Army Col. James L. Pohl’s decision to remove Bin al Shibh from the case.

“He does not want his case to interfere with the others,” said Harrington.

Until this week, all five men have been on trial together since their May 5, 2012, arraignment on charges they trained, funded and arranged travel for the 19 hijackers of the planes that crashed into the Pentagon, World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001 — killing 2,976 people.

Bin al Shibh, 42, from Yemen, is accused of organizing the Hamburg, Germany, cell of hijackers and aspiring to be one of them – so much so that, according to the charges, he recorded a “martyr’s video.”

Harrington specifically cited upheaval in the Bin al Shibh defense team by the discovery of an apparently now closed FBI investigation that has left questions about whether the Yemeni’s legal team has been compromised. A security officer spoke secretly to the FBI, and was fired, as have been three other team members, one a U.S. military officer functioning as a behind the scenes lawyer.

Harrington said he expects the conflict-of-interest question will take some time to resolve. He also invoked Bin al Shibh’s ongoing complaints about noises and vibrations at his secret lockup, Camp 7, noting that by having his own trial Bin al Shibh might get a hearing on the issue sooner than he would by sharing a trial with the others.

Harrington said Pohl would decide by noon Wednesday whether to have prison camp guards bring Bin al Shibh to court.

Pohl separated Bin al Shibh’s case July 24, citing the conflict-of-interest question caused by FBI investigation as well as the on-again, off-again issue of Bin al Shibh’s mental competency, triggered in part by a petition concerning jailhouse noises and vibrations. Both issues have stymied progress in the trial of all five men.

Prosecutors oppose separating the case and asked the judge Monday to reconsider his decision. Clayton Trivett, a case prosecutor, cited the undue trauma that more than one trial might have on the families of the Sept. 11 victims.

“He listened to the concerns by the prosecution for the victims,” Harrington said of his client and noted that “if his case delays the start of trial by another six months or a year, that’s more anxiety for them.”

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