The second round of pretrial hearings in the capital case against five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks ended with a judge ordering testimony from an ex-vice admiral into a claim that U.S. lawmakers “unlawfully influenced” the proceedings.
Lawyers for the five men, including accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have asked the military judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, to dismiss the case because public comments by top officials including Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have made it impossible for the men to get a fair trial.
Pohl today ordered Bruce MacDonald, the civilian head of the military tribunal and a former U.S. Navy vice admiral, to testify at hearings beginning Feb. 11 on whether he was improperly swayed by politicians’ comments in deciding to pursue the case through a military commission and to seek the death penalty.
The question of unlawful influence is a “critical issue,” Pohl said today at the last of three days of hearings at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the defendants are held. “What did the convening authority do and why did he do it?” Pohl asked.
As convening authority, MacDonald designates the charges on which the accused are tried, selects members of the jury that will eventually hear the case and has other powers.
“If there is this potential of outside influence, it’s best to litigate it full and open and on-the-record,” Pohl said.
Mohammed and the four other 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. They are charged with conspiring to finance, train and direct the 19 hijackers who seized the planes; terrorism; hijacking aircraft; conspiracy; murder in violation of the laws of war; and attacking civilians.
“The guilt of these men has been predetermined,” defense lawyers said in a motion seeking the hearing.
“There be no greater prejudicial and inflammatory impact in any case than the extraordinary facts presented here -- the president of the United States and other leadership, over a period of years, all across the United States, and in the full view and hearing of the global media, calling these co-accused names such as ‘terrorists,’ ‘killers,’ ‘extremists,’ ‘radicals,’ and the ‘enemy,’ announcing they are guilty of the crimes charged, announcing they have confessed to the crimes charged, and repeatedly stating they will be brought to trial in the forum most likely to exact swift justice,” the defense lawyers wrote.
None of the defendants was in court today, the second day this week they skipped the proceedings, which the judge has given them the right to do.
The case is U.S. v. Mohammed, Military Commissions Trial (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).