Chaos as 9/11 suspects go on trial at last

Alleged mastermind of 2001 attacks refuses to play any part as proceedings open at Guantanamo military tribunal

Washington

In circumstances bordering on the chaotic, the US yesterday started its latest attempt to convict the proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in a courtroom – and prove at the same time that its much criticised system of military tribunals could deliver a fair trial to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four al-Qa'ida co-defendants, all of whom face the death penalty.

When arraignment proceedings began at 9am local time against the five men, at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunal, it was their first appearance in public for more than three years, since an initial Guantanamo trial was shut down in January 2009 by the incoming Obama administration.

On that occasion, the star defendant sought to confess to the crime, mocking the court and loudly proclaiming his desire for martyrdom. This time, the tactics of the man known as KSM, and those of the four others in the dock, were different.

Looking haggard, with a straggly reddish beard and wearing reading glasses, he took off his earphones, ignored the judge and refused to speak. "I believe Mr Mohammed will decline to address the court. I believe he's deeply concerned about the fairness of the proceeding," his civilian lawyer, David Nevin, declared.

Then two of the defendants left their seats and started to pray next to the tables of their lawyers – watched by US soldiers in camouflage uniform who lined the sides of the courtroom. At one point, Walid bin Attash, who is accused of running an al-Qa'ida training camp in Afghanistan, was placed in a restraint chair.

But the biggest disruption came in late morning, brought about by Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni who would, prosecutors say, have been one of the 9/11 hijackers but for being denied a US entry visa. "Maybe you're not going to see us any more," Bin al-Shibh shouted out. "The people at the camp, maybe they're going to kill us and say we committed suicide."

Judge James Pohl, a US Army colonel, tried to keep a grip on proceedings, warning they would continue even in the absence of the defendants. But the circus-like nature of the opening session was a sign that the trial, even when it properly gets under way, could take years to complete. "I can't imagine this will be wrapped up in six months," one defence lawyer old reporters, noting that lengthy appeals would follow.

That prospect will offer no cheer to relatives of the 3,000 who died in the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11 and on the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. A few, chosen by lottery, were in the court. Other family members followed proceedings via closed-circuit TV at military bases on the East Coast.

The five men face charges of terrorism, hijacking and conspiracy, as well as 2,976 individual counts of murder, which carry a maximum penalty of death. But the legitimacy of the military tribunal process is also on trial. The Obama administration took office promising to close Guantanamo, and try the 9/11 prisoners in federal civilian court.

But with both Congress and public opinion opposed, the White House gave up, and reverted to military commissions. New rules have been adopted, tightening the rules of evidence and restricting the use of hearsay. But critics still say information extracted by torture (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times) makes it impossible to obtain a fair trial.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...