Protesting 9/11 defendants, sick defense attorney stall Guantanamo hearing
The Miami Herald
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The judge in the Sept. 11 case shouted down two alleged conspirators protesting their lack of rights, ejected one from the war court and then rapidly went into an abrupt recess Monday morning to get a sick defense lawyer to the Navy base’s urgent care clinic.
“I have a right to talk,” Yemeni defendant Ramzi bin al Shibh shouted at the judge, Army Col. James Pohl.
“No you don’t,” the judge shouted back, trying to silence him before ordering U.S. Army guards to remove him from the Top Secret court.
Bin al Shibh, 41, was on his feet, unshackled, shouting at the judge and attired in a desert camouflage jacket atop a traditional white robe when two soldiers pinned his arms behind his back and hustled him out of court
Moments before, the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 48, appeared to be reading off a paper an Arabic-language protest of military obstacles to meeting with his lawyers. The judge shut him down with a ruling that Mohammed lost the right to voluntarily absent himself from this week’s pretrial hearing by not answering his questions.
The drama came at the start of what was intended to be a dry week-long hearing on technical, computer problems that have bedeviled both this remote court compound and the Pentagon offices in particular of Defense attorneys in this death-penalty case.
As the last session was ending Aug. 23, defense lawyers made a presentation to the judge about vanishing work files and emails that, they said, compromised the attorney-client privilege in preparing for the conspiracy trial that has not set start date.
Pohl said this week he’d hear evidence on whether to suspend pretrial preparation, probably until next year, while the Pentagon fixes the defense computer system.
But one of those lawyers, Chicago attorney Cheryl Bormann, came to court suffering an unidentified illness.
Pohl announced that, as soon as he advised the five defendants of their rights to waive attendance, she would be able to rush to the Navy base hospital for a medical appointment.
“Don’t take this the wrong way but, you sound horrible,” the judge told her, without specifying what ailed her. Bormann is the civilian death-penalty defense specialist for Walid bin Attash, 35, who like Bin al Shibh is alleged to have been Mohammed’s deputy in the plot that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.
Because the Pentagon is prosecuting the five men in a joint conspiracy case, her illness brought the proceedings to a halt at least until the afternoon.
The developments left unclear whether, or when, the week-long hearings would resume.
Sunday, the chief prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told reporters he understood frustration at the slow pace of the proceedings.
“I want this thing to move,” he told four reporters who arrived at the base over the weekend to report on the proceedings. But, “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.”
The other two defendants at court Monday were Ammar al Baluchi, 36, Mohammed’s Pakistani nephew, and Mustafa al Hawsawi, 45, a Saudi man, both accused of helping some of the Sept. 11 hijackers with travel arrangements and money transfers. Hawsawi said he understood his right to miss this week’s hearings and asked to be returned to his prison cell. Baluchi asked to stay inside the court throughout the recess and work with his defense attorneys.
The judge granted both requests.