by Karen McVeigh, UK Guardian
Five Guantánamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks were back before a military tribunal on Monday for pre-trial hearings after months of delay.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the alleged mastermind of 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in US history – and his four co-defendants sat quietly at the defence tables, watched by military guards. Defendant Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi responded to the judge’s questions about his request for additional legal counsel, according to the Associated Press, before the hearing was adjourned.
The calm start to the proceedings was in sharp contrast to the previous hearing in May, which was marred by protests, outbursts and the defendants’ refusal to answer questions from the judge. It lasted 13 hours.
The hearings, in Camp Justice, the war court compound at the US naval base in Cuba, are expected to focus on secrecy and transparency, but will cover a range of issues from whether the prison camps can force the men to attend their own trials to what they can wear in court, the Miami Herald reported.
The hearings are part of the legal proceedings required to move the case to trial, estimated to be at least a year away. They were scheduled for August but delayed by tropical storm Isaac.
Mohammed, a Pakistani citizen from Kuwait, who attended college in North Carolina, has told military officials that he planned the 9/11 attacks “from A to Z” and was involved in about 30 other terrorist plots. He has said, among other things, that he personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The other defendants in addition to Ahmad al-Hawsawi are Ramzi Binalshibh; Walid bin Attash; and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali.
All five could face the death penalty if convicted.
The five men were in the custody of the CIA for four years before being brought to the base for detention and trial. One of the key issues at this week’s hearing will be how much the men’s lawyers and the wider world will be allowed to learn about what happened during that time.
The government argues that whatever the men say about their time in the CIA’s secret network of “black sites” is classified at the highest levels.
Prosecutors have asked the judge to approve what is known as a protective order that is intended to prevent the release of classified information during the eventual trial of the five.
Lawyers for the defendants say the proposed rules will adversely affect their defence. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a challenge to the a protective order, says the restrictions will prevent the public from learning what happened to Mohammed and his co-defendants during several years of CIA confinement and interrogation.
The order requires the court to employ a 40-second delay during legal proceedings, so that reporters, who watch behind soundproof glass, can be stopped from hearing details of the CIA’s classified rendition and detention programme from officials, lawyers or the defendants themselves.
Hina Shamsi, an ACLU attorney who will be arguing against the protective order during the pre-trial hearing, said: “What we are challenging is the censorship of the defendants’ testimony based on their personal knowledge of the government’s torture and detention of them.”
The order, which is also being challenged by a coalition of media organizations, is overly broad because it would “classify the defendants own knowledge, thoughts and experience,” she said.
“It’s a truly extraordinary and chilling proposal that the government is asking the court to accept,” Shamsi said.
In court papers, military prosecutors argue that the trial requires additional security because the accused have personal knowledge of classified information such as interrogation techniques and knowledge about which other countries provided assistance in their capture.
“Each of the accused is in the unique position of having had access to classified intelligence sources and methods,” the prosecution says in court papers. “The government, like the defense, must protect that classified information from disclosure.”
Brigadier general Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions, said on Sunday that the security precautions are necessary to prevent the release information that could harm US intelligence operations or personnel around the world, and not to prevent embarrassing the government or to cover up wrongdoing.
“Our government’s sources and methods are not an open book,” Martins told the Associated Press.
Some details of the five defendants’ treatment are public knowledge. The CIA’s declassified documents record Mohammed being waterboarded 186 times.
In May, David Nevin, Mohammed’s defence attorney, told reporters after the 13-hour hearing: “The government wants to kill Mr Mohammed. They want to extinguish the last eyewitness to his torture so that he can never speak about it.”
The May hearings followed a failed attempt to try the five men in Guantánamo in 2008.
Families of 9/11 victims have been invited to watch the pre-trial hearings in military facilities in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Seven family members were viewing the Guantánamo proceedings on Monday via closed-circuit television at Fort Hamilton, a base in Brooklyn.
In addition to 9/11 families and first responders, the general public can watch the proceedings at Fort Meade, in Maryland.
SEE ALSO this related letter to the editor published in the UK Guardian on 4 October 2012 …
My unjust extradition, after eight years in detention without charge
As a British citizen who has lived here since birth, studied, worked full-time and paid taxes, I should face trial here
After fighting a lengthy battle lasting more than eight years, I expect to be extradited to the US imminently. Since my detention without charge began in August 2004, millions of pounds of British taxpayer’s money has been spent on keeping me in a high-security prison all these years, on legal costs and parliamentary business. In addition, there have been at least 10 demonstrations attended by hundreds of people, several parliamentary debates and thousands of letters written to MPs, ministers and public officials. As if all this was not enough, last year nearly 150,000 people signed an e-petition to Downing Street calling for me to be put on trial in Britain.
As well as tangible costs, the government has paid a price in outrage, disillusionment with legitimate forms of protest and resentment towards the justice system. This is not to mention the tens of thousands of pounds spent by my family (all British taxpayers) out of their own money supporting me, visiting me in prison and campaigning for me to be tried here in Britain, something they mistakenly thought their taxes had already paid for.
So why has this battle been fought? Why should I be put on trial in Britain? Why have I spent all this time and effort fighting extradition (or “avoiding extradition” as some like to put it)? As a British citizen who has lived since birth in Britain, studied, worked full-time and paid taxes, if I am accused of any offence here in Britain I expect at the very least to face trial here in Britain.
I am not against the concept of extradition; in fact I support it, but only for fugitives. If someone is accused of murder in Texas or robbery in New York, then flees to Britain as a fugitive, of course that person should be extradited to face trial in the land where he allegedly committed the crime. Ministers have frequently defended our extradition arrangements with the US by claiming that the US also extradites people, including its own citizens, to Britain, so it is mutually reciprocal. However, the question to ask is how many people has the US extradited to Britain who are accused of committing offences on American soil? The answer is none, because US authorities considering foreign extradition requests understand very well that extradition should be for fugitives, not resident alleged offenders.
As well as not being anti-extradition, I am not anti-US either. The US is a sovereign nation with a justice system that it can run how it wants. If you disagree with US penal policies, or believe them to be harsh, the answer is simple as we say in prison, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” As a British citizen living in Britain during the period of the allegations against me, is it unreasonable to assume that I would have considered myself subject to British law, not US law (or that of any other country)? Indeed, as the government’s former terrorism watchdog Lord Carlile said in the case of computer hacker Gary McKinnon: “There is no doubt that Mr McKinnon could be prosecuted in this country, given that the acts of unlawful access occurred within our jurisdiction (ie from his computer in north London) and that he has admitted the offences. The English legal system is perfectly positioned to deal with cases of this nature making McKinnon’s extradition both unnecessary and disproportionate.”
After my initial arrest in December 2003 during which Metropolitan police officers inflicted at least 73 injuries on me, I would have thought that the police would give to the CPS any material found in my house with a view to considering prosecuting me in the UK. After six days in custody I was released without charge and I returned to my full-time job at Imperial College London. However, as has recently been uncovered in legal documents, the Metropolitan police only showed a fraction of the material seized in my house to the CPS, sending the rest straight to the US so that it could seek my extradition (which it did do eight months later). What is even more concerning is that, at the time the senior police officer in charge of my case decided to effectively “outsource” my case to the US, he himself was a suspect in the separate investigation into the police assault on me (though he was never charged).
The recent decision by the CPS not to prosecute me for reasons of insufficient evidence still does not answer the central question at the crux of the matter: why did the Metropolitan police not hand over to the CPS all of the material it seized from my house in December 2003? Extraditing me to the US will not bury this question under the carpet: it will only amplify the problem.
In recent years, successive British governments have lined up to offer apologies, or compensation (or both) to victims of cover-ups and miscarriages of justice: Hillsborough, Bloody Sunday, former Guantanamo inmates… It is said that the only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. In years to come, will future generations look proudly at this period of British history, a period in which a British citizen was detained without charge for a record time of over eight years then extradited to a foreign land where he was not a fugitive from justice? They will ask: was the extradition of Babar Ahmad worth it?
[Please see original for photo and links.]