Guantanamo judge ejects 9/11 defendant at hearing
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The Sept. 11 trial judge ejected one of the accused 9/11 plotters from a pretrial hearing Tuesday for trying to lodge a noisy protest about prison camp conditions.
Army Col. James Pohl ordered guards to remove Ramzi Bin al Shibh from the maximum-security war court at this U.S. Navy base after the Yemeni captive ignored several warnings.
Pohl was trying to get Bin al Shibh, 41, to acknowledge that he had the right to voluntarily skip the hearings. Bin al Shibh replied, mostly through his lawyer, that he had another sleepless night at the secret Camp 7 prison punctuated by guards banging on doors and other disruptions.
At one point Bin al Shibh shouted, in fuzzy audio on a 40-second delay from the sealed war-court chamber, about a “secret CIA prison.”
“Nobody knows it,” he said in English. “Nobody investigates it. Nobody sees it.”
At issue is the long-running complaint by Bin al Shibh that guards cause vibrations and other noises at his Camp 7 cell in a form of military orchestrated sleep deprivation. Prosecutors deny the misbehavior has occurred at the clandestine prison camp run by a special guard force called Task Force Platinum.
This summer, Pohl ordered the prison camp guard force to stop it, if it was happening.
In court Tuesday morning, he suggested to Bin al Shibh’s lawyers that they either file a motion for an evidentiary hearing or seek mental-health advice. “I don't know if he's actually suffering this or if it’s in his mind,” the judge said.
The captives’ defense lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, replied that his client is not delusional. He accused the Camp 7 guard force of ignoring the judge’s order. Bin al Shibh told his lawyer that, when he invokes the judge’s order to protest guard disruption, the troops respond that they are following prison camp Standard Operating Procedures.
Once ejected, guards led Bin al Shibh to a holding cell behind the court equipped with a closed-circuit video screen. The transmission capability lets the accused watch the proceedings while his attorneys and translator remain in the courtroom.
Pretrial proceedings continued with Bin al Shibh’s co-defendants in the courtroom, having compliantly responded “yes” to the judge’s inquiry of whether they understood they could voluntarily skip the open portions of this week’s hearings. Pohl also announced from the bench during Tuesday’s hearing that he would hold a closed session Friday.
Neither the public nor the accused are allowed to attend those because they are restricted to attorneys and war-court staff who have special, top-secret security clearances.
Tuesday’s session followed a closed hearing Monday between lawyers and the judge at the war court that excluded the defendants and the public, including six victims of the Sept. 11 attacks who were chosen by Defense Department lottery to watch this week’s hearings.
The Pentagon prosecutor has proposed a January 2015 trial date although the judge has not yet adopted it.
The slow pace of the proceedings has been a source of frustration for the victims.
“The sooner this comes to trial, the better it will be for everyone involved,” said Army Col. John Grote Jr., who was wounded at the Pentagon. “We don’t want closure. We want justice.”
Before he was ejected from the court, Bin al Shibh was wearing a Navy desert camouflage jacket, a pattern once worn by Guantánamo guards, as was co-defendant Walid bin Attash, 35. The alleged plot ringleader, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 48, had on a jungle camouflage jacket approved by the judge after his attorneys won a motion to let him wear paramilitary garb at the war court.
Tuesday marked the second time Pohl ejected Bin al Shibh from the war court. Guards also hustled him from the court on Sept. 16 after the Yemeni tried to lodge a similar shouting protest.
Bin al Shibh and Bin Attash are accused of serving as Mohammed’s deputies in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al Baluchi, 36, and a Saudi named Mustafa al Hawsawi, 48, are accused of helping provide travel and financial arrangements for the 9/11 hijackers.