Five prisoners accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US refused to answer a US military judge’s questions on Saturday in a disorderly 13-hour arraignment hearing in a top-security courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, which was marked by the defiance of the defendants and which their lawyers sought to cast as unfair.
When they refused to answer his questions, the judge, US Army Colonel James Pohl, ruled that they would be represented by the lawyers assigned to them. In addition to their military lawyers, each has a civilian attorney with experience in death-penalty cases.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed architect of the hijacked plane attacks in 2001, and his four co-defendants exercised their right to indefinitely delay entering a plea to murder and terrorism charges that carry the death penalty.
The military tribunal was adjourned until June 12 and Pohl said it would be at least a year before the trial started.
The Islamist militants are accused of conspiring with then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, of murder in violation of the laws of war, hijacking, terrorism and other charges stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks.
Two defendants insisted that the charge sheet be read out and it took prosecutors two-and-a-half hours just to read the portion describing the hijackings.
Saturday’s hearing was the first time the detainees had been seen in public in about three years.
Mohammed, a 47-year-old Pakistani, looked haggard and his full, scraggly beard was tinted red with henna.
As he and his co-defendants refused to answer Pohl’s questions, the exasperated judge struggled to keep the hearing on track.
“Why is this so hard?” the judge said.
The defendants also refused to listen through earphones to Arabic translations of the judge’s questions, so the judge ordered that the translation be broadcast over a loudspeaker.
When Yemeni defendant Walid bin Attash refused to enter the courtroom, guards strapped him into a restraining chair and wheeled him in.