All Five Sept. 11 Accused Back Together Again
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CN) - Reversing a decision that he made weeks ago, a military judge rejoined the case of Ramzi bin al Shibh with those of the other alleged perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks at a hearing on Wednesday.
Bin al Shibh is one of five men accused of plotting the hijackings of airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. All of them possibly face the death penalty if convicted of terrorism, hijacking, murder in violation of the laws of war for each of the nearly 3,000 victims, and other charges.
On July 24, the military judge, Col. James Pohl, separated his case from the fold to prevent the unique challenges of his case from delaying trial for the others.
Prosecutor Clayton Trivett harshly criticized the judge for making the decision without first consulting any of the lawyers about whether it was necessary.
"I don't want to say that this was a gift to Mr. bin al-Shibh, but he didn't have to earn it," Trivett told the court today.
Pohl mentioned that he had been "concerned about the pace of play" in bin al Shibh's case after turbulent hearings in December derailed the case for nine months.
Bin al Shibh got kicked out of court four times within one week late last year, claiming sleep deprivation from the "noises and vibrations" in his cell. None of his co-defendants have made similar complaints, and prison officials have denied any mistreatment.
"It's the government's position that it's not happening," Trivett said.
After defense attorneys requested an investigation, prosecutors moved for a sanity board to examine him, but bin al Shibh refused to participate.
Then, in April, his attorneys said that the FBI tried to make an informant of a member of the defense team, raising potential conflict-of-interest issues.
Pohl's decision to untangle the challenges of bin al Shibh's case separately was a "drastic measure," Trivett said repeatedly this week.
Prosecutors say that a separate trial will burden more than 200 family members of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who participate in a program to view the proceedings here and plan to testify during the sentencing phase.
In a still-secret legal brief, bin al Shibh's lawyers apparently wrote separating his case would benefit these family members by moving proceedings along faster.
Although this argument has not yet been made public, Trivett alluded to it during a fiery moment of his oral arguments today.
"The United States does not allow accused terrorists to decide what's in the best interest of the victims in this case," he said, adding that the notion was "quite frankly the most offensive thing to date to come from that side of the room."
Defense attorney Harrington called that characterization "inappropriate."
"The prosecution may well advocate for the victims' families," he said, noting that the government often complains about how the delays affect them. "It doesn't mean that that issue is sacrosanct and we can't talk about it."
Pohl indicated that his severance order could be reinstated at a later time.
For now, bin al Shibh will return to court with the other four accused, including self-professed 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, on Thursday.