GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A military judge agreed Monday to another delay in the war crimes trial of five Guantanamo prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Army Col. Stephen Henley agreed to the U.S. government's request for a 60-day continuance, a delay intended to give President Barack Obama's administration enough time to decide whether it should move the case to a civilian court or a revamped war crimes tribunal.
Henley had scheduled a hearing at the U.S. base in Cuba to allow Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other defendants — all three of whom are serving as their own lawyers — to voice any objections to the Obama's administration's third continuance in their case.
But Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks, and the other defendants sent a note to the judge saying they did not oppose the delay, and Henley granted a written order without a hearing.
Mohammed was still expected to address the court later on a series of legal motions from the three defendants, including a request to dismiss lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union assigned to help with their case.
The two other Sept. 11 defendants have not yet been ruled mentally competent to act as their own lawyers and were expected to be excluded from the hearing.
The chief prosecutor, Navy Capt. John F. Murphy, said a decision on where to try Mohammed and four others charged in the Sept. 11 attacks will be made by Nov. 16. Even if the case remains in the hands of the military it would have to be moved from Guantanamo if Obama keeps his pledge to close the detention center at the U.S. base in Cuba in January.
65 are ‘viable’ cases
The U.S. holds about 225 prisoners at Guantanamo. Murphy said about 65 are "viable" cases for prosecution.
Military prosecutors are ready to try the cases, but four U.S. attorneys offices in New York and the Washington DC area are reviewing the files for possible federal civilian trials, he said.
Mohammed has made nine appearances before the war crimes court. He has proudly proclaimed his role in the attacks and call for the dismissal of the lawyers appointed by the court to assist with his defense.
Mohammed, captured by U.S. authorities in Pakistan in 2003, has said he wants to be executed by the United States to achieve martyrdom.
Declassified 2004 CIA documents, released Aug. 24 by the Obama administration, detailed some of the treatment that Mohammed and other terrorism suspects underwent as part of a harsh regime of interrogation.
Among other things, interrogators him that "if anything else happens in the United States, 'We're going to kill your children,'" and continuously poured large volumes of water on a cloth covering his mouth — the practice known as waterboarding. Previous documents revealed that he was waterboarded 183 times.
Several relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who traveled to Guantanamo to observe the hearing, expressed frustration at the delay.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," said Lee Hanson, whose son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were killed when terrorists crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
"We're told it's a 60-day delay now, but we all know a 60-day delay is going to be about a two-year delay by the time they transfer this to a federal court," said Hanson, who lives in Easton, Connecticut.
Observers from human rights groups said the cases would likely move more quickly in civilian federal courts, which have long established rules of criminal procedure unlike the military tribunals, which are still being overhauled by Congress.
"We agree with the family members in saying that it's been eight years and nothing's happened," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The reason nothing has happened is that the Guantanamo military commissions are incapable of rendering justice. These are rules we've made up along the way."
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