Suspicion of Political Manuevers As 9/11 Trial Schedule Materializes
Defense lawyers for the alleged 9/11 conspirators on Thursday accused the Pentagon prosecutor of rushing to begin the complex Sept. 11, 2001, mass-murder trial in the height of the presidential campaign season.
The U.S. military attorneys included the claim in a 20-page brief asking the military judge to dismiss the capital charges against alleged al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other Guantánamo detainees.
The document includes an e-mail from a civilian member of the prosecution team proposing to set the trial date for Sept. 15, the Monday after the seventh anniversary of the suicide attacks.
''Not coincidentally,'' the defense attorneys say, ``that would force the trial of this case in mid-September, some seven weeks before the general elections.''
The date, in fact, is 10 days after Sen. John McCain, an architect of Military Commissions law, is expected to be officially nominated as the Republican presidential candidate at the GOP national convention in St. Paul, Minn.
''Three months and 18 days is not enough time to prepare a defense in this death penalty case even if the government had provided the defense with the attorneys, resources, and facilities necessary to do so,'' said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, attorney for Ammar al Baluchi, who is also known as Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.
A Pentagon spokesman denied the trial schedule was linked to the national political campaign season. ''We're moving forward with the trials,'' said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon. ``And we're going to continue with the process.''
In other signs of the drive to get more cases to trial this year:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The Defense Department on Thursday issued preliminary conspiracy charges against three alleged al Qaeda bomb-makers -- two Saudis and an Algerian -- raising the total number of currently active prosecutions to 17. Sufiyan Barhoumi, Jibran Qahtani and Ghassan Sharbi, long-held Guantánamo detainees, face maximum life sentences, if convicted.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The military replaced an Army judge who had threatened to suspend the commission trial of Canadian captive Omar Khadr, until the prison camps at Guantánamo release Khadr's health records to defense attorneys. Military commissions sources had earlier indicated that the judge, Col. Peter E. Brownback III, was weighing his retirement.
By law, U.S.-held detainees charged at the war court must be tried within 120 days of finalization of charges -- unless the defense team is granted a delay.
All five men in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror-attack case face possible execution, if convicted. Civilian and military criminal defense lawyers have predicted it will take a year to prepare, in part because it's a death-penalty case and classified information is being used.
Defense lawyers have claimed for some time that the Pentagon is rushing to trial before President Bush leaves the White House in January, or cited alleged internal debates by appointees about whether charges could be brought for political gain or to capture the imagination of the American people.
The latest brief raises the allegations a notch a week before the five men go before a military judge for their arraignment, or official reading of charges.
The Pentagon is organizing for large-scale coverage of the first-ever appearances of the former CIA-held captives.
It has invited 60 national and international journalists to be airlifted to Guantánamo from Andrews Air Force Base a day ahead of the trial date and then taken back to the Washington Beltway the next day.
© 2008 The Miami Herald