The Miami Herald
Posted on Sat, May. 05, 2012

Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators put on a show of defiance during a marathon war court arraignment Saturday, sitting mute rather than answering their U.S. military judge’s questions ahead of their trial on charges of planning the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

At no time did the five men enter pleas — dashing hopes that they’d cut short a trial process potentially lasting years by admitting their guilt or confessing to the crime in a bid to get a fast track to martyrdom.

Instead, the military judge struggled to get through the basics of starting the clock toward the capital murder trial, provisionally scheduled for a year from now, by unilaterally assigning Pentagon-paid defense attorneys to the five men accused of orchestrating the worst terror attack on U.S. soil.

“Why is this so hard?” the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, declared in exasperation.

The five accused men allegedly trained, advised and financed the 19 hijackers who commandeered airliners and then crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing 2,976 people. All could get the death penalty, if convicted.

The day began with guards carrying one accused terrorist, alleged 9/11 trainer Walid bin Attash, into the maximum-security courtroom at about 9 a.m. strapped into a restraint chair. The judge said guards chose to put the captive in restraint because of his behavior outside the court. There was no additional explanation.

The long session concluded more than 12 hours later with the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, and other prosecutors reciting the 87-page charge sheet in English — and a translator echoing each paragraph in Arabic because the accused refused to don headphones for simultaneous translation. In between the accused slowed the process by not only accepting each of the judge’s offers for three prayer calls that required recesses in the long hearing but by also adding extra prayers in the midst of the proceedings.

At one point, Ramzi bin al Shibh, the alleged organizer of an al Qaida cell in Hamburg, Germany, got up from his defendant’s chair and began to pray. He stood, arms crossed on his chest, then at one point got on his knees. The guards didn’t move and the court watched in silence until he finished.

Saturday’s rare war court session was the first appearance of the five men since Jan. 21, 2009, a day after the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Since then, Obama worked with Congress to provide the men with greater protections. But the Pentagon-paid defense lawyers wouldn’t stick to the script, either, instead peppering the proceedings with a long litany of procedural protests — about a lack of resources, about presumptive classification requirements, and about allegations of abuse of their clients at the hands of the detention center, miles from the war-court compound called Camp Justice.

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