Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were for the first time to watch in Guantanamo yesterday as an alleged mastermind of the terror strikes, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was to appear before a US military tribunal.
Mohammed and his four codefendants face the death penalty on charges related to the attacks in a trial that takes place amid uncertainty over the future of the US “war on terror” camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Five relatives of those killed on Sept. 11 will look on as the prosecution works on clearing pre-trial hurdles in coming weeks, including a motion to dismiss the entire case because of the role of a former Pentagon legal adviser.
It is the first time that relatives of those killed on Sept. 11 have been allowed to observe a trial in Guantanamo.
Mohammed, who claimed involvement in numerous terror attacks and is representing himself, is expected to challenge the ability of the judge, Army Colonel Stephen Henley, to objectively preside over the case.
The military tribunal system at Guantanamo allows defendants to challenge the judge in a process known as “voir dire.” Mohammed and two other defendants who are representing themselves will be able to directly question and challenge the judge, who was named to the case last month.
Also at issue is the role of one-time Office of Military Commissions legal advisor Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, accused of exerting unlawful command influence over prosecution teams.
Hartmann has since been reassigned, but lawyers next week will argue that the damage has already been done.
“General Hartmann became the lead prosecutor when his role was supposed to be the neutral advisor,” said Army Major Jon Jackson, military defense lawyer for Saudi defendant Mustafa al-Hawsawi. “We will request dismissal with prejudice.”
Mohammed and his codefendants were to be brought into a high-tech, high-security courtroom yesterday for a week of pre-trial sessions.
The Pentagon organized a lottery system that selected five victim relatives from a pool of more than 100. A friend or relative will also accompany four of the five relatives, said Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander J.D. Gordon.
The relatives will sit in a viewing gallery at the back of the courtroom, separated from proceedings by an acrylic glass wall and an audio time-delay.
The time-delay allows the court’s security officer to cut the audio feed if information considered classified is mentioned.