On Monday during an argument as to whether attendance by five Guantanamo prisoners is mandatory in court ended when a military judge angrily ended the defense lawyer’s comments. The exchange occurred in a pretrial hearing for the case involving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the death penalty. Mohammed has been accused of being the mastermind of the September 11 attacks that killed 2,976 people. There are four other al Qaeda conspirators as defendants in the case.
Prior to being transferred to Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in 2006, the defendants had been imprisoned in secret CIA locations. The five defendants claim that they were tortured during negotiations. The judge in the case is Army Colonel James Pohl. Pohl said that the question of torture is irrelevant when it comes to determining if the defendants have the right to voluntarily miss court hearings.
The lawyer for Mohammed, Air Force Captain Michael Schwartz, said that removing the defendants from their cell forcibly and dragging them into court would cause them emotional and physical strain that would remind them of their time in custody with the CIA. The exchange between Schwartz and Judge Pohl went as follows:
“We have to talk about torture,” Schwartz said.
“No we don’t,” the judge replied.
“I think we do,” Schwartz said.
“I’m telling you I don’t think that’s relevant to this issue. That’s the end of that,” Pohl snapped.
As Schwartz kept pressing the issue Pohl responded “Are you having trouble hearing me? Move on to something else!”
Pohl issued a ruling that permits the defendants from not appearing in court during the hearings but must be present when the jury is assembled for trial. When Mohammed was asked if he understood that for now, his attendance was voluntary, Mohammed responded, “Yes, but I don’t think there’s any justice in this court.”
The other four defendants in the case are Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa al Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash. They have been charged with attacking civilians, conspiring with al Qaeda, attacking civilian targets, destruction of property, murder in violation of the laws of war, terrorism and hijacking. All of the defendants could be sentenced to death if they are convicted.
There was a previous attempt to try the defendants at Guantanamo that ended when President Obama and his administration attempted to move the trial to New York City. Congress pressured the president and his administration to abandon the idea, which led to the charges being filed again in Guantanamo.