A new phase in the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspected terrorists accused of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States of America has begun. We see in court today, as witness to his ongoing trial for the attacks that killed thousands of innocent American citizens, a new and different Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In May, as the pre-trial issues were opening for discussion, he and co-defendants were clearly frightened and confused. So affected by their time in prisons run by the American military, in Guantanamo Bay and more remote locations, the defendants were only able to participate passively in their defense. They were asked to wear headphones so as to hear the proceedings in their native tongue; they were shaken, and believed the headphones to be torture devices. The prisoners, confused, ignored the judge, praying into their beards, sometimes making frightened outbursts. They hoped to bring the details of their torture to the attention of whomever might listen.
Even as early as May, it was clear that the references to their torture and humiliation, including, in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s case, 183 waterboardings at a secret CIA “black site” would be inadmissible, as any mention might be a release of classified information. Prosecutors insist that these restrictions are necessary to prevent the release of information that would reveal intelligence sources and methods. Hina Shamsi, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke out today against the restrictions; he argued they were overly broad and intended not to protect national security so much as to prevent the public from learning more details about the harsh treatment of the defendants in the CIA’s overseas prisons . Before the trial, before the court was brought to order, defense attorney David Nevin was told, “You can’t talk about it [torture], you can’t discuss it… It is not going to happen!”
Prior to the release of the well-known Wikileaks secret documents revealed by high level hacking, the government took the position that “enhanced” interrogation was used for discovering plans for future attacks. Wikileaks brought to world attention that in fact the waterboarding and enhanced techniques were being used to extract evidence against suspects already in custody.
The current proceedings have limited the prohibited subjects to torture and excessively cruel treatment of prisoners prior to their arrival at Guantanamo Bay. The issue is serious and worthy of discussion. Early in the motions phase, a debate came before Army Judge Colonel James L. Pohl, regarding a prosecution request that the public be prevented from hearing information concerning the CIA’s rendition and interrogation tactics. In addition to the sentiments of Hina Shamsi, above, the court heard from David Schultz, an attorney representing 14 media organizations, including the Washington Post, who argued that keeping large portions of the proceedings classified would undermine the legitimacy of the trial, and he admonished, “No one will believe justice was done if things are conducted in secret.”
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused mastermind of the 9/11 terrorism attack, sat quietly until this point, calm, with henna staining his lavish beard, and wearing a camouflage vest, which suggests he is a prisoner of war. He was lucid, and spoke to allude to what he called the prosecution’s hypocrisy in keeping secret details of his years of captivity. He told the court, “The government uses national security as it chooses… Many can kill people under the name of national security, and torture people under the name of national security; and detain underage children under the name of national security.” Referring to the killing of Osama bin Laden, he said, “The president [of the United States] can take someone and throw them into the sea in the name of national security.”
Khalid Sheik Mohammed said that the government feels sad for the killing of 3000 on September 11, noting that we should also feel sorry that the U.S. government, represented here by [chief prosecutor] Gen. Martins, and others, “… Has killed thousands of people.” He corrected himself; “Millions of people.” Your blood is not made of gold and ours is made of water. We are all human beings,” he said. In additional remarks, he referred to drone strikes which have killed many, showing he is aware of ongoing world events.
Mohammed’s defense attorney, David Nevin, has taken the position that the long and harsh interrogation measures used on his client constitute reason for sparing the defendants’ lives. He believes the evidence is important. “Everything that was done was done against his will,” Nevin said, “It was all imposed on him from the outside.” Judge Pohl earlier indicated he is uncertain as to whether he can legally declassify national security information. Defense lawyers make the point that preventing the release of classified information in this case is absurd, inasmuch as the jury and the public are already aware of it.
The other four defendants are Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged plot cell manager; Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward; Ammar al Baluchi, aka Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, alleged Al Qaeda financiers. Mohammed and these four co-defendants face charges that include terrorism, conspiracy and 2,976 counts of murder, one count for each known victim of the attacks at the time the charges were filed. The defendants could get the death penalty if convicted.
The trial is at least a year away.