Sept. 11 defendants return to Gitmo hearings

Onlookers watch via closed circuit at Fort Hamilton

Five Guantanamo prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attacks returned before a military tribunal Monday, forgoing the protests that turned their last appearance into an unruly 13-hour spectacle.

The public was invited to view the proceedings from closed-circuit video in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Just seven families attended the first day of the hearings at Fort Hamilton, the U.S. military base in Brooklyn.

But the apparent cooperation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has said he masterminded the worst terror attack on U.S. soil, and four codefendants did little to speed up proceedings that have stuck in a legal and political morass for years.

Defense lawyers spent hours arguing that their clients shouldn't have to attend the hearing, saying they dredge up bad memories of their harsh treatment in CIA detention. The military judge ruled that the men would not have to attend the hearings for the rest of the week.

"Our clients may believe that ... I don't want to be subjected to this procedure that transports me here, brings up memories, brings up emotions of things that happened to me," said Jim Harrington, who represents Ramzi Binalshibh, accused of helping to provide support to the hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

The five men sat quietly at the defense tables under the watchful eyes of military guards and several 9/11 family members at the U.S. base in Cuba. Mohammed, his beard dyed a rust color with henna, serenely read legal papers. Two others responded politely to the judge when asked.

All seemed to cooperate with their attorneys in a specially designed high-tech courtroom that allows the government to muffle sounds so spectators behind a glass wall cannot hear classified information.

The orderly scene was in stark contrast to their arraignment in May on charges that include terrorism and murder. At that session, one prisoner was briefly restrained for acting out, Binalshibh launched into an incoherent rant, the men generally ignored the judge and refused to use the court translation system, and two stood up to pray at one point.

Harrington told the court that the defendants may want to boycott future court sessions because they don't recognize the U.S. government's authority, or because their transportation from their high-security cells may remind them of the harsh treatment they endured when confined in the CIA's overseas network of secret prisons before they came to Guantanamo in September 2006.

Prosecutors want the men to be required to attend court sessions. Army Col. James Pohl ruled that Mohammed and his codefendants could not attend hearings that were scheduled to run through the end of this week. He said he may require them to attend future pretrial sessions and said they would have to be present for their trial, likely to begin more than a year from now.

The focus of the week's hearings include broad security rules for the prisoners, including measures to prevent the accused from publicly revealing what happened to them in the CIA prisons.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to approve what is known as a protective order intended to prevent the release of classified information during trial.

Lawyers for the defendants say the rules, as proposed, will hobble their defense. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a separate challenge, says the restrictions are overly broad and would improperly keep the public from hearing the men speak about their captivity.

"What we are challenging is the censorship of the defendant's testimony based on their personal knowledge of the government's torture and detention of them," said Hina Shamsi, an ACLU attorney.