Proceedings in 9/11 case resume, then delayed again

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – This was a hearing intended to secure the case against the five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks ...


GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – This was a hearing intended to secure the case against the five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks on track after a long delay caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, it turned into another example of how legal maneuvers and character evolution continue to slow down the trial process for defendants 20 years after the horrific events the prosecution says contributed to. to release.

Guards led the five men, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is accused of being the mastermind of the plot, in the courtroom Tuesday for the first time since the pandemic interrupted preliminary proceedings.

A lawyer for Mr. Mohammed had just started questioning the new judge, Colonel Matthew N. McCall, on the circumstances of his assignment to the case when a prosecutor, Clayton G. Trivett Jr., announced that the US Court of Military Commission Review had issued a 23-page decision on a dispute in the process of selecting judges for the military commission.

Colonel McCall then adjourned the hearing until Wednesday to give lawyers the rest of the day to review the decision.

The delay seems to be short. Nonetheless, the morning’s developments have shown how difficult it is to move the discussions forward. Plans to start the trial this year have long been scrapped, with the goal now to start no earlier than 2022.

Mr Mohammed looked a lot like what he had when he last appeared in court in February 2020. He removed a face mask to reveal an orange-dyed beard and had a friendly chat with some of those accused of being his accomplices . Soldiers in riot gear stood guard nearby with black masks and plastic face shields in accordance with strict protocols to protect residents of the remote base from the virus.

This week’s hearings were preliminary in nature, but they have grown in importance due to the timing. Colonel McCall is holding his first hearings in the case on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the attacks and after a 19-month hiatus from preliminary hearings. The previous judge abruptly retreat service at the start of the pandemic and prosecutors fought for more than a year to put in place virus protection and a judge to relaunch the hearings.

More than a year of testimony and legal argument has been postponed in pre-trial preparation, including efforts by defense teams to exclude key evidence. The defense maintains that the evidence is marred by CIA torture of prisoners during their three and four years in incommunicado detention before their transfer to Guantánamo Bay over the Labor Day weekend in 2006.

Colonel McCall’s ambitions for the week were modest: to allow attorneys to question him about his background to see if any of his connections and experience might constitute conflict or prejudice, then meet separately with defense attorneys and prosecutors about classified information.

But in its ruling on the judicial selection process, the Pentagon appeals committee overturned some of Colonel McCall’s early rulings and administrative orders in the 9/11 proceedings, finding that when it made them, during from his first two months on the case at the end of 2020, he was too inexperienced to chair a military commission.

Colonel McCall was removed from the case in December after prosecutors protested. He had not yet served for two years as a military judge, a prerequisite for a judge in the war tribunal. He was reinstated last month.

In the meantime, Chief Justice Col. Douglas K. Watkins failed in a behind-the-scenes effort to get the Pentagon’s waiver clearance and then dealt with the case himself, prompting lawyers defense to challenge months of administrative decisions of the two judges. .

Much has changed since the last session in the death penalty case which accuses Mr. Mohammed, his nephew and three other men of conspiring with the hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.

The chief prosecutor, the brigadier. General Mark S. Martins, who had been handling the case since the indictment of the accused in May 2012, retires from the army and was absent from the courtroom, leaving only civilian lawyers representing the prosecution, a first in the history of the case.

The judge demanded that everyone in the courtroom wear masks, but granted himself an exception so that lawyers who question him about his credentials and qualifications can see his reactions to their questions. Four of the five defendants ignored the instruction and took off their masks so they could see each other while they chatted, possibly for their first meetings since the start of the pandemic as they are spread across two different maximum security cell blocks .

Only the Saudi accused, Mustafa al-Hawsaoui, kept his N95 mask on at all times throughout the morning session. His lawyers say he suffered from chronic health problems resulting from rectal abuse while in CIA detention. On Tuesday, he not only brought a pillow to court to make sitting less painful, but guards also provided him with a padded rehabilitation chair in court, to which he added the pillow.

The beards of the two youngest accused in the case, both in their mid-forties, have become streaked gray during the pandemic.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Proceedings in 9/11 case resume, then delayed again
Proceedings in 9/11 case resume, then delayed again
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