4 defendants absent for start of Wednesday's 9/11 hearing
Tribune Washington Bureau
FORT MEADE, Md. — Four of the five defendants in the Sept. 11 conspiracy case boycotted the start of Wednesday’s pretrial hearing rather than sit and watch as government prosecutors try to persuade the military commission judge that classified material, including information about torture and inhumane treatment, be barred from their trial at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Only Ammar al Baluchi, a.k.a. Ali Abdul Azis Ali, an alleged al-Qaida financier, chose to attend the session while the other four refused. However, Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed twice changed his mind, and once the hearing was under way asked if he could be brought in during the mid-morning recess.
A Navy commander at the prison testified that at first even Baluchi did not want to attend. “Initially he said he would waive” his appearance and signed a form declining to attend, said the commander, whose name was not disclosed for security reasons. “Then he changed his mind.
“I originally notified him at 5:10 and at approximately 5:50 he asked to speak to me, and asked if he could in fact change his mind having already signed the form. I said yes he could. I told him he could get his belongings together in order to come today.”
She said Mohammed was awoken at 5 a.m. and indicated he planned on attending the hearing. Guards moved him to a holding cell next to the courtroom. Then 10 minutes before the 9 a.m. start of the session he asked to speak to the commander again.
“I went back to the holding cell with the forms and basically said, ‘You asked to see me? It’s my understanding you have decided to waive your appearance’ after all.”
Mohammed said that was correct, and signed the waiver. Then 30 minutes into the hearing the chief prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, told Judge James L. Pohl that Mohammed had changed his mind again and wanted in. The judge said Mohammed could discuss it with his attorneys during the break.
The other defendants are Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged plot cell manager, Walid bin Attash, an alleged al-Qaida training camp steward, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, an alleged al-Qaida financier.
The judge Wednesday is hearing the government’s position on classified information in the case. Prosecutors do not want any mention of the prisoners’ treatment at secret CIA black sites before arriving at Guantanamo Bay in 2006. They argue that what happened to them is irrelevant to the criminal charges of conspiracy and terrorism, and would only be a distraction during the trial.
The Guantanamo Bay hearings are being telecast via a secure video link to Fort Meade.