Sept. 11 Defendant Says Guantanamo Food Isn’t Adequate

One of the accused plotters of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon asked to leave a court hearing today because of “problems with the food” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“This is one sort of psychological torture,” Ramzi bin al Shibh, a Yemeni who is alleged to have helped finance the Sept. 11 hijackers, said through an interpreter. He won the military judge’s permission to leave the courtroom after complaining that food isn’t provided when he meets his lawyer and citing failings in meal preparation that he didn’t specify.

A prison spokesman said a standard halal lunch was provided for bin al Shibh today.

“The defendant complained that his lunch did not include condiments such as olives and honey,” the spokesman, Navy Captain Robert Durand, said in an e-mailed statement.

The adequacy of prison meals was the latest distraction to bog down proceedings in the biggest U.S. terrorism case.

Entire weeks of pre-trial hearings have been lost because of weather or technical issues, while other logistical concerns and related legal matters have slowed proceedings.

Today’s hearing focused mostly on technical procedural issues governing the handling of classified information. Reporters not attending the court session in Cuba watched a closed-circuit video feed of the hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland, near Washington.

Bin al Shibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and three others are accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that used hijacked passenger airplanes to kill almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Virginia, as well as aboard a plane that crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.

Terrorism, Murder

The defendants are charged with conspiring to finance, train and direct the 19 hijackers who seized the four planes, as well as terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the laws of war and attacking civilians. A trial is at least a year away.

The debate over food began when the court hearing resumed after a lunch break. Bin al Shibh’s attorney, James Harrington, said his client felt ill because of the food he ate. Bin al Shibh, in addressing the court, didn’t repeat that assertion.

The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, allowed bin al Shibh to leave the courtroom after the defendant said he was doing so voluntarily.

The four other defendants chose not to come to court today. Two of them have cited illnesses.

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