9/11 suspects back in U.S. military court in Guantanamo

Reuters News

5/5/2012 10:48:46 AM - Reuters News

By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The arraignment of five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks got off to a rocky start on Saturday when the defendants removed their earphones and refused to listen to a translation of the judge's questions.

Star defendant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the September 11 hijacked plane attacks, refused to respond to the judge's questions about whether he was satisfied with his U.S. military and civilian lawyers.

"I believe Mr. Mohammed will decline to address the court. I believe he's deeply concerned about the fairness of the proceeding," said his civilian lawyer, David Nevin.

Mohammed looked haggard and his full, scraggly beard had a reddish tinge. He wore a round white turban and white tunic.

Defendant Ramzi Binalshibh stood up, then knelt on the courtroom floor and prayed as a row of burly guards in camouflage uniforms kept a close watch but did not interfere.

Defendant Walid bin Attash was tightly strapped into a restraining chair after refusing to come to court voluntarily. The judge freed him after he promised to behave inside the courtroom.

When all the defendants refused to wear the earphones that allowed them to listen to the Arabic-English translations of the judge's questions, the judge recessed the hearing briefly and then resumed it with an interpreter providing translation that was audible to the whole court.

Mohammed and his co-defendants, who could all be subjected to the death penalty, face seven charges stemming from the 2001 attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania and propelled the United States into a deadly, costly and ongoing global war against al Qaeda and its supporters.

The defendants last appeared in court in December 2008 when Mohammed tried to confess and plead guilty.

Cheryl Borman, a civilian attorney for defendant Walid bin Attash, wore a black hijab and long black robe and told the court that the treatment of her client at Guantanamo had interfered with his ability to participate in the proceedings.

"These men have been mistreated," Borman said.

The judge said that until the question of the men's legal representation was settled, the attorneys had no standing to make motions concerning the defendants' treatment. But the defendants still refused to answer the judge's questions.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Beech)