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Chaotic 9/11 Hearing Begins, Defendants Protest Military Tribunal, Torture

Common Dreams staff

courtroom drawing showing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed consulting defense attorney civilian David Nevin at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AFP Photo/Janet Hamlin)

Five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks were formally charged on Saturday with crimes including murder and terrorism in a 13 hour long contentious hearing.

David Nevin, lawyer of the accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, told the court that "the world is watching" the trial after the US government admitted to waterboarding the accused terrorist 183 times. The defense challenged the legitimacy of the court, or military tribunal, calling the process a  "blight on America's international reputation and her commitment to the rule of law".

The accused men refused to participate in the one-day hearing, remaining silent for 9 of the 13 hours, at one point removing their headphones used for translation.

The defense argued that the judge could not oversee the trial of men who were the enemies of the military he serves; such is the case with a military tribunal, as apposed to a federal criminal court.

"Maybe you're not going to see us any more," one defendant shouted out in a dramatic moment, telling Judge James Pohl, "You are going to kill us."

The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero called the military tribunal system "substandard" and "created to provide second-tier justice."

When pressed, the defendants eventually deferred their pleas; the proceedings have been adjourned until June 12, 2012.

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The Guardian/UK: 9/11 suspects refuse to answer judge's questions as Guantánamo trial opens

None of the defendants chose to enter a plea at the hearing and reserved it for a later appearance. The judge set a tentative trial date of May 2013 although he acknowledged that there are likely to be more delays. After a 13-hour session to arraign the suspects, proceedings have been adjourned until 12 June. [...]

Mohammed and his co-accused – Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash – each face 2,976 counts of murder representing the victims who died on 9/11, as well as accusations of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty for all of the men. [...]

In contrast on Saturday the accused men refused to participate in the one-day hearing. Early in the proceedings the accused removed their headphones used for translation. Nevin said that in Mohammed's case it was because of his treatment while under interrogation by the Central Intelligence Agency. "The reason he's not putting the headphones in his ears is because of the torture imposed on him," he said.

Nevin asked to be allowed to elaborate but the judge, Colonel James Pohl, refused.

Pohl said that if the men refused to participate in proceedings then in due course a plea of not guilty would be entered on their behalf. "One cannot choose not to participate and frustrate the normal course of business," he said.

The issue of torture has badly tainted the military tribunal, which is the second attempt to put the men on trial after the US supreme court blocked an earlier prosecution over protection of the accused's rights. [...]

Defence lawyers promised a lengthy fight. "This is only the beginning of a trial that will take years to complete, followed by years of appellate review," said Connell. "I can't imagine any scenario where this thing gets wrapped up in six months."

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Agence France-Presse: 9/11 defendants charged in Guantanamo court

Five men accused of plotting the deadly September 11, 2001 attacks have been formally charged with crimes including murder and terrorism in a chaotic marathon hearing.

Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other accused opted to defer their pleas at Saturday's proceedings in a military tribunal at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- which lasted more than 13 hours.

The five face the death penalty if convicted for their roles in the terror attacks by Al-Qaeda militants in which hijacked planes were used to strike New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 2,976 people.

The defendants were charged with "conspiracy, attacking civilians, murder and violation of the law of war, destruction, hijacking and terrorism" in connection with the attacks, the most lethal on US soil in modern history.

Mohammed, 47, was charged along with his Pakistani nephew Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi; Mustapha al-Hawsawi of Saudi Arabia; and Yemenis Ramzi Binalshibh and Walid bin Attash.

After defying the court for more than nine hours by keeping silent, Mohammed and the co-defendants -- in a much-anticipated first public appearance in three years -- finally deferred their pleas.

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