9-11 victims' kin to watch Guantanamo court proceedings
AFP - 2 hours 20 minutes ago
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (AFP) - - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, is set to appear Monday before a US military tribunal where he will face victims' kin for the first time.
Mohammed and his four co-defendants face the death penalty on charges related to the September 11 attacks, in a trial that takes place against a backdrop of uncertainty about the future of the US "war on terror" camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Five relatives of those killed on September 11 will look on as the prosecution aims to clear a number of a pre-trial hurdles in coming week, including a defense motion to dismiss the entire case because of the role of a former Pentagon legal advisor.
Mohammed, who claimed involvement in numerous terror attacks and is representing himself, is expected to challenge the ability of the judge, Army Colonel Stephen Henley, to objectively preside over the case.
The military tribunal system at Guantanamo allows defendants to challenge the judge in a process known as "voir dire," where Mohammed and two other defendants who are representing themselves will be able to directly question and challenge the judge, who was named to the case in November.
Also at issue is the role of one-time Office of Military Commissions legal advisor Brigadier General Thomas Hartman, accused of exerting unlawful command influence over prosecution teams.
Hartmann has since been reassigned, but lawyers next week will argue that the damage has already been done.
"General Hartmann became the lead prosecutor when his role was supposed to be the neutral advisor," said Army Major Jon Jackson, military defense lawyer for Saudi defendant Mustafa al-Hawsawi.
"We will request dismissal with prejudice," he added.
Mohammed and his co-defendants are to be brought into a high-tech, high-security courtroom on Monday for a week of pre-trial sessions.
The Pentagon organized a lottery system that selected five victim relatives from a pool of more than 100. A friend or relative will also accompany four of the five relatives, said Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander J.D. Gordon.
It is the first time that relatives of those killed on September 11 have been allowed to observe a trial in Guantanamo.
It was unclear whether the defendants knew the relatives would be present, though Jackson said he would make sure his client knew on Monday.
Relatives will sit in a viewing gallery at the back of the courtroom, separated from proceedings by an acrylic glass wall and an audio time-delay.
The time-delay allows the court's security officer to cut the audio feed if information considered classified is mentioned.
The sessions scheduled for next week are expected to focus on pre-trial procedural issues.
Hawsawi and bin al-Shibh are the only two of the defendants still represented by military lawyers, with the assistance of civilian counsel.
Hawsawi is being represented willingly, but the court ordered Bin al Shibh to accept a lawyer after a mental health panel found him incapable of representing himself.
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to prioritize closing Guantanamo when he takes office on January 20.
But until then military tribunals are scheduled to continue, the Pentagon office responsible for the trials said Friday.
"In the military, we continue to do our mission until we are told otherwise," said Joseph DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions.
The 2006 Military Commissions Act allows Guantanamo prisoners to be prosecuted in a military court and suspends habeas corpus protections that would otherwise let them to challenge their detentions.
Unlike US criminal courts, evidence obtained under coercion and hearsay evidence may be introduced at the proceedings.
Defense attorneys, including some military advocates, have joined human rights organizations in condemning tribunals already held at Guantanamo so far, in August and October.
Once Obama decides the fate of Guantanamo, authorities may have to release accused foreign terrorists to their home countries. Others might be prosecuted in US criminal courts, or in a special hybrid court that combines US civilian criminal law and military tribunals -- an idea that many law enforcement officials say is unworkable.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a motion Friday challenging the decision to cut the audio feed during discussion of the defendants' treatment while detained in Central Intelligence Agency facilities at secret locations outside the United States.
"The point of this motion is to say that the experiences of the defendants cannot be classified," Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, told AFP.
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Photograph of a sketch of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed done by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin at the courthouse at Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in June 2008. Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, is to appear before a US military tribunal where he will face victims' kin for the first time.
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