Washington – Preliminary closed session of pretrial hearing of Sept. 11 defendants began on Tuesday and is expected to last for months.
The five defendants are: mastermind Pakistani Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Yemeni national Ramzi bin al Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi, Walid bin Attash and Saudi national Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi.
The trial of the five prisoners by military commission, which combines elements of the U.S. military and civilian court systems, has faced many delays since the men were arraigned in May 2012 on charges that include nearly 3,000 counts of murder in violation of the laws of war, terrorism and hijacking.
The chief war crimes prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins proposed to start jury selection in the Sept. 11 trial in March 2018, a date that defense lawyers said was too soon.
He told reporters Monday night that he has filed the proposed timetable with the court to start picking the U.S. military officers as jurors in the tribunal of Mohammed and four alleged conspirators. Once chosen, he said, he expects prosecutors to present their case in six to eight weeks.
Defense attorneys objected that the date is too soon, suggesting to postpone it till 2020.
Meanwhile, trial judge Army Col. James Pohl agreed to listen to the testimony of Lee Hanson, 80, next Friday. Hanson spoke on the phone with his son, Peter, before he was killed, along with his wife and daughter, on the hijacked plane United-175.
The five men were formally charged five years ago on May 5, 2012 but progress has been slow while Col. Pohl has to decide whether to hold trial without counselor Cheryl Bormann, lawyer of Walid bin Attash because she broke her arm, requiring surgery, and was unable to make the trip from Washington, D.C.
Prosecution is deliberating whether Attash can voluntarily agree to go forward with this week’s hearings without his so-called learned counsel, but defense attorneys of other defendants fear this may become a precedent.
Many complicated judicial procedures are transpiring during the trial due to the intense interrogation techniques used by the CIA in its secret prison network, the Black Sites. Agents deployed different types of methods including waterboarding, chronic sleep deprivation and force-feeding — either orally or anally.
In 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan. He was subjected to several interrogation methods including waterboarding before his transfer to Guantanamo in 2006.
Many of the information gathered by the prosecution are still classified, which angered the defense attorneys. They said that the prosecution and judge have not given them the bulk of the national security information they need to prepare for trial.
“We don’t know what we don’t know, and that’s the problem,” Hawsawi’s defense attorney, Walter Ruiz, said Tuesday.
“I think they are hopelessly optimistic in putting out that date,” said Jay Connell, defense attorney for defendant Ammar al Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
The new procedures began less than a week after President Donald Trump was sworn in. Trump previously declared that he won’t hesitate in sending new prisoners to Guantanamo, which Obama had previously promised to shut down.