Pretrial hearings have begun for five men suspected of planning the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 against the United States. Although the hearings were originally scheduled to begin in late August this year, a myriad of problems delayed them nearly two months. With the trial finally underway, military judge James Pohl is prepared to hear arguments from both the prosecution and defense over a wide array of topics. Issues to be heard by Pohl, also an Army colonel, range from the public disclosure of sensitive information to the dress code for the defendants. The pretrial hearings will set all of the guidelines for the trial which, by most estimates, is still nearly a year away.
According to The Huffington Post, the pretrial start was first delayed by a cut Internet cable followed by the arrival of Hurricane Isaac. A hazardous rat and mold infestations in the defense counsel’s offices threatened to further delay the trial start. Members of the defense were brought to the hospital with respiratory problems, which resulted in naval hospital officials deeming the building unsafe.
According to a letter from one of the defense lawyers to the court, “There were at least six dead large rats found in the ceilings of these spaces. When the workers came to remove the dead rats from the overhead ceiling areas, it is reported to me that rat feces dropped out of the ceiling.”
Judge Pohl’s heart strings were not pulled by the letter and a request to further delay the pretrial was denied. Arguments began Monday, Oct. 15 and some very important rulings are supposed to be decided over the pretrial period. One of the main issues being questioned by both the prosecution and the defense is whether the U.S. Constitution applies to the five accused 9/11 plotters in Guantanamo Bay as it would if they were being tried in a court on American soil.
The other key point that is set to be decided during the pretrial process is which of the suspects’ testimonies about their treatment during captivity at “black sites” is going to be released to the public, including some of the more unconventional interrogation techniques employed by the C.I.A. “Black sites” are classified locations used by the C.I.A. and other organizations to interrogate high priority targets. Think of the movie “Safe House.” Reports that the suspects were subject to waterboarding, a painful and potentially deadly torture technique, during their interrogation have been repeatedly brought up before and during the trial.
According to The Huffington Post, the American Civil Liberties Union and 14 news organizations are expected to make statements along with the defense team in support of transparency during the trial, arguing that the treatment of the defendants could potentially be “mitigating evidence” when determining their final sentence. The prosecution has argued that some of the evidence is sensitive in nature.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Justice Department prosecutor Edward Ryan spoke out about wanting to keep certain aspects of the trial secret, things like, “military operations that are sensitive” and the “names of suspected terrorists and the strategies they used to communicate with one another, their operational nicknames and code words.”
This information could potentially affect U.S. operations in the Middle East and around the world. Pohl said that he would issue a final protective order regarding sensitive materials soon.
Pohl has made a few rulings on other portions of the trial. One of the more controversial issues for which the defense wanted clarification was if the defendants had to attend hearings. The defense argued that forced attendance would be traumatic for their clients if they were forcibly removed from their cells to attend hearings. Although Pohl ruled in favor of the defense, he refused to allow defense attorney Captain Michael Schwartz to make his claim on the record. Pohl only seemed to be interested in the rights of the defendants, not their personal safety or feelings.
According to The Huffington Post, Pohl said, “The issue before me is whether or not the accused has a right to voluntarily choose to not come to court for these proceedings. The issue of why is not before me… I don’t think that’s relevant.”
Another key decision made by Pohl was permitting the defendants to wear camouflage and other military-style clothing. The prosecution argued that the clothing may pose a threat to security and that military garb was “volatile and communicative” to other detainees in the facility. Pohl ultimately ruled in favor of the defense but left an open invitation to the base commander should there be any additional security concerns he is not aware of.
Although the major decisions regarding admissible evidence and constitutional rights of the defendants have yet to be determined, final rulings will be hammered out during the pretrial and discovery processes. Huffington Post writer Daphne Eviatar believes this is an important trial for all Americans. In her article in August about the upcoming trial, she wrote:
“At stake is whether the United States government can whisk terrorism suspects to offshore prisons to avoid giving them basic rights; whether Americans will ever be allowed to know what their government did to suspects arrested after 9/11 and interrogated for years in secret CIA prisons overseas; and whether these five men now, 11 years later, will finally be given a fair trial.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this will be a defining moment for the United States.”
Although I agree with Eviatar on her assessment of the importance of this trial, I believe her writing is intentionally structured to insinuate that the United States government is using unfavorable techniques on the five 9/11 suspects. I also believe that she takes it a step further, suggesting that the U.S. will use their post-9/11 powers to strip U.S. citizens of their rights and hold them for undetermined amounts of time before they receive a fair trial. I believe that before Eviatar makes such bold statements about our government’s manipulation of its citizens’ rights, she needs to take into account the specifics of this particular trial and the men being tried.
The most notable of the five 9/11 conspirators is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks. In an article published by The Guardian, it is revealed that Mohammed has told military officials that he planned the 9/11 attacks “from A to Z” and has also played a part in roughly 30 other terrorist operations. Mohammed has also been reported saying that he personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. This man has shown no remorse for his actions, including his role in the most deadly of foreign attacks on America.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Mohammed lashed out at the court saying, “When the government feels sad for the killing of 3,000 people who were killed on Sept. 11, they should also feel sorry that the same government that is represented by Gen. Martins and others has killed thousands, millions of people.”
The other defendants allegedly played roles in the 9/11 attacks, although not as large as Mohammed.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh was selected as one of the hijackers and was supposed to sacrifice his life on 9/11. When he was denied a U.S. visa, al-Shibh acted as an intermediary for the other hijackers by wiring them funds and relaying key information to Al-Qaeda leaders.
Walid bin Attash is charged with selecting and helping to train several of the hijackers. According to prosecutors, in the past he also acted as a personal bodyguard of Osama bin Laden and helped with the planning of both the 1998 East African Embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole.
Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi are allegedly two of the major financiers behind the 9/11 attacks. They allegedly assisted all of the hijackers with their training, day-to-day expenses, plane tickets and flight training.
All of these men have committed horrible crimes against the U.S. and facilitated the killing of countless innocent civilians and non-combatants. These men are not traditional criminals and don’t deserve the same treatment that U.S. citizens entangled in the justice system receive. I understand the function of the ACLU and that the organization is based on the fair treatment of all people, but these men are not like the rest of us. The men who are on trial haven’t shown a hint of guilt nor remorse for their actions. Questionable interrogation techniques were the least they deserved for killing thousands of innocent Americans on 9/11.
As Eviatar said, this trial is a defining moment for our country. This trial will demonstrate our resolve when it comes to those who terrorize innocent people and use fear as a tool of control.
David Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org