Families of 9/11 victims to watch Guantanamo trial
AFP - 1 hour 31 minutes ago
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (AFP) - - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, is to appear on 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 9/11 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 9/11 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 has claimed involvement in numerous terror attacks and is representing himself, is expected to challenge presiding judge Army Colonel Stephen Henley's ability 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.
At issue is one-time Office of Military Commissions legal advisor Brigadier General Thomas Hartman. He has been accused in several cases at Guantanamo of exerting unlawful command influence over prosecution teams, resulting in his exclusion from a number of cases.
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.
Never before have relatives of those killed in the 9/11 attacks been allowed to be at Guantanamo to observe a trial as they will on Monday when Mohammed and his four co-defendants are brought into a high-tech, high-security courtroom for a week of pre-trial sessions.
The Pentagon organized a lottery system that selected five victim relatives from a pool of over 100, according to Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander J.D. Gordon. A friend or relative will also accompany four of the five relatives, he said.
It was unclear whether any of the five defendants know that relatives of their alleged victims would be present next week.
Jackson said his client would be told before he enters court on Monday.
"I would say that would be something I would bring to his attention," Jackson said.
The relatives will be seated in a viewing gallery at the back of the courtroom, separated from the five defendants, defense and prosecution teams and the military judge by a wall of Plexiglas and an audio time-delay. The time-delay allows the court's security officer to cut the audio feed from the courtroom in the event that information considered classified is mentioned.
The sessions scheduled for next week are not expected to deal with the defendants' treatment. Instead, the five victim relatives and their companions will observe hearings that 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 representation after a mental health panel found him incapable of representing himself.
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make the controversial facility's closure one of his top priorities upon entering office next month.
Obama has pledged to close the detention camps and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will stay on and serve in Obama's administration, has publicly expressed his desire to see Guantanamo shuttered.
But in the month before Obama takes office, military tribunals are scheduled to continue as normal, 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.
Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a motion 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. 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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