Lawyers for the accused plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks urged a military judge to postpone hearings scheduled for later this month after internal defense documents went missing on government computers.
For at least a month, lawyers for accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others who face a military tribunal have found their confidential work inexplicably missing from the U.S. Defense Department computers on which they store documents. That, and a separate computer-related issue, spurred an emergency request today to postpone hearings set for April 22.
“The chunk of information that’s missing is our internal files,” said Walter Ruiz, a lawyer for Mustafa al Hawsawi, a Saudi who allegedly helped finance the hijackers. “This essentially cripples our ability to operate.”
The accused Sept. 11 plotters are scheduled to return to court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for five days of hearings that may include arguments over whether the government must retain evidence relating to Central Intelligence Agency “black-sites” in third countries where detainees were allegedly tortured.
Hearings in the case, which began last year, have been plagued by delay. In August, the threat of a hurricane canceled a week of arguments while hearings this year were slowed as the judge probed defense claims that the government was eavesdropping on them.
Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the computer issue.
The latest request for a postponement came after the chief military defense counsel issued an order yesterday instructing lawyers to cease doing confidential work on U.S. computers. Separately, administrators of the U.S. computer system recently provided internal defense e-mails to prosecutors in what may have been an inadvertent computer search, Ruiz said.
“Is there any security for defense attorney information?” James Connell, the lawyer for Ammar al Baluchi, who is Mohammed’s nephew, asked in a statement. “This new disclosure is simply the latest in a series of revelations of courtroom monitoring, hidden surveillance devices, and legal bin searches.”
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.
They could face execution if convicted of the most serious charges.
The case is U.S. v. Mohammed, Military Commissions Trial (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).