One of five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks told a judge that he and his co-defendants don’t trust their attorneys because prosecutors are interfering in the lawyer-client relationship.
The first of four days of hearings at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ended with Walid bin Attash telling the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, that he and the others believed that prosecutors “don’t even want our attorneys to do anything.” The brief outburst came as Pohl was explaining that the men may choose not to attend the remaining three hearings this week as well as those next month.
“We don’t have any motivating factors that will invite us to come to the court,” bin Attash said, according to a court interpreter’s translation of his comment in Arabic. “We have been dealing with our attorneys for a year and a half, and we haven’t been able to gain any trust with them.”
Since the arraignment of the five men in May, defense lawyers have complained about military procedures that hinder communication with their clients. Bin Attash’s lawyer, Cheryl Bormann, who is based in Chicago, told Pohl she has been unable to send a letter to her client for 15 months because the military will read it before it’s delivered.
“I can’t bring in a document to my client,” she said in court. At a press conference after yesterday’s hearing, Bormann said “He expressed frustration at a system that seems to do everything possible to interfere with the attorney-client relationship” and “prevent him from talking about things that happened to him.”
Bin Attash spoke immediately before the military tribunal concluded its public session and began a closed hearing in which the central question of the week may have been considered: whether the government must preserve any existing evidence from so-called black sites where some of the defendants claim to have been tortured. The issue, or at least the procedure for addressing the issue, may be discussed in public, at least in part, when court resumes this week.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has said the alleged ringleader of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other individuals were subjected to the interrogation technique known as waterboarding.
Mohammed, along with bin Attash and Ramzi bin al Shibh, came to court dressed partially in military camouflage garb. Two other defendants, Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, wore traditional headwraps and tunics. The judge previously ruled that they may do so.
Proceedings were uneventful until the final minutes, with the focus on protective orders relating to classified documents, witness testimony at future hearings, whether Mohammed may add a lawyer to his defense team and whether bin Attash may fire one from his.
The defendants were silent throughout, with Mohammed and bin Attash saying nothing when Pohl asked them about their change in attorneys.
Late in the day, someone hit a white-noise button that blocked observers in the courtroom gallery and those watching on a closed-circuit TV feed from hearing a comment about the black-sites issue from Mohammed’s lawyer, David Nevin. That spurred a harsh response from Pohl, whose own staff is supposedly controlling the device, and from defense lawyers.
In addition to the white-noise button, there is a 40-second delay of statements broadcast from the courtroom.
At the press conference after court, defense lawyers expressed anger at the cut in transmission of the public broadcast and said Pohl has ordered a government audio technician to testify today about what happened.
“He wants to find out precisely how the buttons are working,” the lead prosecutor, Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, told reporters after court yesterday. “He wants this to come out on the record tomorrow.”
That exchange was soon followed by bin Attash’s complaint about the lawyer-client relationship. Bin Attash, who is accused of selecting and helping train some of the 19 hijackers, told Pohl the issue wasn’t a “personal” matter between him and the judge.
“I want you to understand the situation we are in,” bin Attash told the judge. “The government doesn’t want us to hear or understand or say anything. And they don’t even want our attorneys to do anything.”
“There are many things that the court can do that would help motivate us to come to court,” he said.
It’s unclear if the five men will come to court today.
The five defendants are accused of plotting the attacks that used hijacked passenger airplanes to kill almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Virginia, and in Pennsylvania.
Mohammed was captured in a 2003 raid in Pakistan. He and the others are charged with conspiring to finance, train and direct the hijackers who seized the planes, terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the laws of war and attacking civilians.
They may face the death penalty if convicted.
The defense is seeking evidence that the government used torture to elicit witness statements or leads in their investigation. James Connell, an attorney for Aziz Ali, a nephew of Mohammed’s, said at a Jan. 27 news conference that the defense may be able to exclude some government evidence at trial if they can show it was derived from torture.
The men may also use such evidence to seek reduced sentences.
The case is U.S. v. Mohammed, Military Commissions Trial (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).