As the judge told Khalid Sheikh Mohammed he faced the death sentence if convicted, the detainee answered : “That is what I want, I’m looking to be a martyr for long time.”
Trial begins for 9/11 ‘mastermind’
June 5, 2008 by babs22
The alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has appeared for the first time before a military tribunal, at Guantanamo Bay.
On Thursday, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Wallid bin Attash and Mustapha al-Hawasawi has been arraigned for the first time inside a high-security courthouse at the US naval base.
Marine Colonal Ralph Kohlmann is the judge at the war-crimes tribunal. The five detainees sat at defense tables alongside their lawyer, without handcuffs and wearing cream-coloured clothing and turbans.
They seemed relaxed as they waited to hear the charges.
Some observers were allowed into the courthouse, and 60 international journalists watched proceedings on close-circuit television, in a nearby press room.
Those five are among 19 prisoners due to face the military tribunals, set up in the wake of 9/11 in order to try non-US prisoners that the White House has classed as “enemy combatants” . Therefore, they are deemed to not be entitled to the legal rights normally afforded to prisoners.
Mohammed confessed to masterminding the September 11 attacks, claim the United States, but his lawyers say the confession was extracted by torture, or “harsh interrogation techniques”, such as waterboarding.
He is described by the US as “one of history’s most infamous terrorists”. They also say that besides admitting involvement in the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York, he has confessed being involved in more than 30 terrorist plots around the world, including plans to attack London’s Big Ben and Canary Wharf.
Mohammed, arrested in Pakistan in March 2003, will be given the chance to address the tribunal, officials said. He has been charged with 2,973 individual counts of murder.
All five will be given the chance to say whether they accept their military and civilian defence lawyers, and whether they wish to plead immediately on the charges. If convicted, they could all face the death penalty.
In September 2006, after spending about three years in secret CIA prisons, they were transferred to Guantanamo, in Cuba.
Thursday’s arraignment poses the highest-profile test yet of a US military tribunal system, that faces an uncertain future. Questions have already been raised by the trials, about the treatment of detainees as well as the legitimacy of American military commissions.
Even though the US authorities say they have bent over backwards to make sure that the trials are fair, some of its own lawyers have already condemned the process as fundamentally flawed.
And Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organisation, has said that the system lacks credibility. “Possibly putting someone to death based on evidence obtained through water-boarding, or after prolonged periods of sleep deprivation while being forced into painful stress positions, is not the answer”, said Jennifer Daskal, a lawyer for the group.
In 2006, the US Supreme Court struck down an earlier system as unconstitutional, and this month it will rule on the rights of Guantanamo prisoners. It may delay or halt the proceedings.
Both presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, say they want to close the military’s offshore detention centre.