The drawn-out pretrial proceedings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other inmates accused of planning the Sept. 11 attacks resumed on Tuesday after more than 560 days of delay. The hearing, however, only took a few hours to hit yet another speed bump.
For the first time since the epidemic, Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi, and Mustafa al Hawsawi filed into the courtroom at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base’s “Camp Justice,” which hosts the military tribunals.
The guys were seated with their defense teams, talking amongst themselves, and seemed to be focused on their cases. Mohammed, who has been known for his brightly colored facial hair in recent years, wore a vivid orange beard and heavy black spectacles. Other defendants were dressed in paramilitary garb.
During the hearing, each detainee spoke only once, affirming that they were aware of their rights. Speaking in English, Mohammed said “yes.” Bin al-Shibh replied in English as well, while the other three men talked through interpreters.
While Mohammed is known for his outbursts in court, it was the judge who became the focal point of the day’s proceedings.
Col. Matthew McCall, who was appointed to preside over the case last month, undertook a review of his qualifications as part of his first appearance on the bench in the proceedings, exposing himself subject to questioning from both the prosecution and the defense.
Gary Sowards, one of Mohammed’s attorneys, took note of McCall’s detour to his appointment. Last year, McCall was chosen to preside over the trial, but he withdrew after prosecutors objected to his lack of expertise. He was restored after serving as a military judge for two years, which was the minimal qualification for the war court.
Sowards pressed McCall on whether the prosecution’s accusations had resulted in improper influence over the judges, prompting his withdrawal from the case. The defense contended that this permitted another court to intervene and order the dismantling of a CIA black site, a secret worldwide jail where terror detainees were subjected to “enhanced interrogation methods” such as waterboarding, which many human rights organizations consider torture.
During the interrogation, McCall stayed calm, portraying the issue as legally unclear in his opinion, but agreeing to the withdrawal to avoid further complicating an already difficult case.
However, the prosecution intervened a few seconds later, alerting the bench of a recently issued Military Commission Review on the identical subject under debate. It was ruled that McCall could preside, but that all of his judgments made before gaining two years of experience would be reversed, leaving just the decision on the black site’s demolition in place.
However, al-civilian Baluchi’s death penalty counsel, James Connell, needed little time to evaluate the material.
“One of the most significant problems in the case is how the torture of these individuals will influence the trial, and trials mean evidence,” Connell said to reporters on the base. “The deliberate destruction of evidence deprives the defense, and ultimately the American public, of knowledge about what transpired.”
Connell said the defense intends to appeal the ruling, but expressed disappointment at yet another delay in the almost decade-long trial.
“This order is again another illustration of why this process takes so long,” he said, “since each issue must be contested separately.” “In this military commission, things come up that never come up anyplace else. Where else in the world does the Pentagon provide court instructions on how to resolve a case? It just does not happen anywhere else than Guantanamo.”