A U.S. military judge canceled six days of hearings scheduled to begin tomorrow in a case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused terrorists as a tropical storm approached Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the legal arguments were to be heard.
Citing “a concern for the safety and welfare of all personnel,” Army Colonel James Pohl canceled the hearing for Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and four others. The hearing was scheduled for this week and early next week.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center’s tracking map shows Tropical Storm Isaac crossing Haiti as a hurricane on Aug. 24 and striking Cuba before arriving at the Florida coast below Cape Coral on Aug. 27.
The hearing was to focus on 25 legal motions by the defense and the prosecution. Among the issues was whether the defense may summon Jose Rodriguez, an ex-Central Intelligence Agency official, to testify about the interrogation of detainees in CIA custody. The detainees say Rodriguez’s testimony will establish that torture took place. The military denies the relevance of Rodriguez’s potential testimony.
The judge was also to hear a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and 14 media organizations, including Bloomberg News, to a military rule that they say bars trial observers from hearing detainee accounts of their treatment in custody or other comments they’ve made.
The U.S. seeks to withhold classified secrets about its “sources, methods and activities,” military lawyers said in court papers.
Defense lawyers, journalists and representatives of non-governmental organizations including Human Rights Watch were on hand to observe the proceedings. They will be evacuated from the island. The five detainees, who were last in court on May 5 for their arraignment, will remain in secure facilities in Guantanamo Bay.
Relatives of victims were also present. Al Acquaviva, whose son Paul was a vice president at eSpeed, then a unit of Cantor Fitzgerald LP, and died in the attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan, said he was “very disappointed” by the postponement.
“We’re coming back,” he said. The military brings a few victims’ relatives to each hearing.
Acquaviva, who lives in Wayne, New Jersey, said the relatives have met with three prosecutors and seen the courtroom while in Guantanamo Bay.
“We’ve seen everything but the guys who did it,” he said. “I wanted to see them, get a look at them.” The court session was scheduled to begin today. It was initially postponed for a day because a train derailment in Maryland affected fiber-optic lines and Internet connectivity, interfering with defense lawyers’ preparations for the hearing.
The trial of Mohammed and the four other detainees won’t start before next year. James Connell, a defense lawyer, said at a press conference today that the trial may be as long as four years away because of the hundreds of motions that will need to be resolved.
Mohammed and the four others face trial on charges that they helped to organize the attacks that used hijacked passenger planes to destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000 people. Military prosecutors say Mohammed has confessed to organizing the attacks.
The case is U.S. v. Mohammed, Military Commissions Trial Judiciary (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).