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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

9/11 Suspect Booted Twice From War Court

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CN) - A military judge twice ejected one of the suspected plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks from the war court Tuesday for noisy outbursts, as public pretrial proceedings reconvened.

In a ritual he has performed for several months, Col. James Pohl kicked off the Tuesday hearing by asking each of the suspects in the attacks of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon if they understood they had the right to be absent from the war court.

Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an alleged "coordinator" of the terrorist attacks, has repeatedly used these opportunities to complain about his treatment in CIA prisons and his current home in Guantanamo Bay, the formerly secret Camp 7.

He and his five co-defendants, including self-professed "mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, could be sentenced to death if convicted of terrorism, mass murder and hijacking.

Sporting military camouflage, bin al-Shibh refused a yes-or-no response to whether he understood his rights, but spoke in English and Arabic about "secret CIA prisons" and "torture."

Military police circled around him and escorted him out of the court at Pohl's command.

After the incident, bin al-Shibh's military appointed counsel, Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, told the judge that his client was "too tired" to attend proceedings because sounds and vibrations kept him up in his cell.

Prosecutors deny the allegation that prison guards are making such noises, which the other defendants have not claimed to have heard.

Every time bin al-Shibh made this allegation over the past several months, Pohl invited his lawyer to submit a motion to start seeking and presenting, but those invitations were declined.

On Tuesday afternoon, bin al-Shibh again reacted to the reading of his rights by talking about his alleged mistreatment.

As military police escorted him out a second time, bin al-Shibh said: "You are a war criminal, judge."

For the rest of the day, defense attorneys for the remaining suspects focused on what happened before this phase of pretrial hearings began.

Unlike in federal court or a court-martial, military commissions have no equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, or an Article 32 hearing under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Instead, a military convening authority initiates a "referral" of charges.

Susan Crawford, a former convening authority, declined to prosecute suspected "20th hijacker" Mohammed al-Qahtani because she said his treatment by the military met the legal definition of torture.

Attorneys for the Sept. 11 suspects claim her successor, Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, glossed over similar evidence for their clients. They want charges against their clients dismissed, or the death penalty taken off the table.

Walter Ruiz, a former Navy commander who recently became a civilian, and represents Mustafa al-Hawsawi, brought the motion, which all of his co-counsel joined.

Prosecutor Jeffrey Groharing argued against removing the death penalty, citing the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was indicted for the Boston Marathon bombing before a decision had been made on whether it would be a capital case.

At a Monday press conference, most family members and survivors of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon said they hoped the suspects would be executed.

Jamie Hargrave Jr., whose brother T.J. was an executive at the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald, took a different view.

"I personally think the death penalty is too easy for these guys," he said, adding that it also "raises issues of martyrdom."

He said: "I wish them a long life in a really small space and not see the light of day."

Many family members voiced frustrations at the slow pace of the proceedings.

Paul Kirwin, an attorney whose son also died in Cantor Fitzgerald's offices, blamed defense attorneys for the delays.

"I think it's a delaying motion," he said. "I think the judge ought to say, 'Hey, is there anything you want to add to the other four?', instead of letting each one of the defense counsel say the same thing for one hour."

Toward the end of the session on Tuesday, attorney Ruiz requested a 10-month pause in proceedings.

David Nevin, the civilian counsel for Mohammed, requested a 90-day freeze.

Throughout the process, defense attorneys have said they need time to catch up with the government's investigation during the three years their clients spent in CIA prisons. The attorneys also cited defects in the proceedings.

After the men were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, an initial prosecution attempt ended as the war court wrangled over whether military law allowed the men to enter a guilty plea and face the death penalty. Such a request would have been accommodated in federal court.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sought to transfer them to the Southern District of New York, but that attempt was aborted amid political uproar over trying the five men blocks away from the former World Trade Center.

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