9/11 defendants formally charged in Guantanamo court
Five suspects accused of plotting the September 11th hijacked plane attacks have been charged with crimes including murder and terrorism in a military tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base in Cuba on Saturday.
The arraignment proceedings lasted more than 13 hours, when the proceedings were interrupted as the defendants continued to kneel on the courtroom floor for prayers. The BBC reported that none of the defendants was willing to wear the court-supplied headphones which supplied English-Arabic translations.
The judge, Army Colonel James Pol, allowed an interpreter appearing physically in court to relay proceedings aloud in Arabic after a recess. Judge Pol asked the defendants whether civilian lawyers were suitably prepared to assist to their defence, especially in a military case that could carry death penalty.
However, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged master-mind of the 9/11 attacks, refused to respond to the judge’s questions about whether he was satisfied with his US military and civilian lawyers.
The public, relatives of the victims of 9/11 attacks and the press witnessed the proceedings behind a glass screen at Guantanamo. The video feed of the hearing was subject to a 40-second delay and it seemed to have briefly cut.
Five defendants said they were tortured when being held for more than three years in a secret CIA prison before being sent to Guantanamo in 2006. But the military tribunal forbade discussion of torture and other sensitive information that would be heard in a civilian court.
Mohammed and four other defendants including Walid bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa al Hawsawi, are charged with 2001 hijacked plane attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania; other charges including murder in violation of the laws of war, destruction of property, conspiring with al-Qaeda, hijacking and terrorism. They proclaimed themselves as “terrorists to the bone” in a 2009 letter to the previous tribunal judge. If convicted, they face death penalty.
Relatives of those who died in the 9/11 attacks welcomed the trials of suspects. Cliff Russell whose brother, a firefighter, was killed, said: “I wish the worst possible death for them.”
As all defendants have deferred entering a plea, the next hearing is scheduled for 12th June. The judge has set a tentative trial date of May 2013, but he acknowledged there would be possible delays.