The five men are charged with murder in violation of the law of war, hijacking and terrorism, among other charges. All of them deferred entering a plea. The case is likely to be the most public and contested examination of the reformed military commissions that were backed by the Obama administration and approved by Congress in 2009.
The normally loquacious Mohammed refused to speak publicly throughout Saturday’s hearing, a stance that was largely adopted by all the other defendants, who tend to follow his lead. Mohammed sat at the top defense table in the spacious courtroom, and throughout the hearing he whispered messages to his comrades, and they chatted and joked with one another during a short recess.
During the hearing, Mohammed, a 47-year-old Pakistani, often kept his chin in his chest, and refused to speak to the military judge, Army Col. James Pohl, about whether he wanted to keep his military and civilian counsel or represent himself. The others followed suit.
Mohammed’s civilian attorney, David Nevin, said the reason his client was not participating was because of the “torture that was imposed on him.”
After their capture, each of the men were held at secret CIA prisons overseas before being transferred in September 2006 to Guantanamo Bay, where they are held at a small, high-security facility known as Camp 7. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in the first month after his capture in March 2003, according to government reports.
As the biggest terrorism case in U.S. history gets underway, proponents and critics of the system are engaged in an increasingly short-tempered war of words about justice and legitimacy.
James Connell, who represents Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew, said the government’s monitoring of communications between the detainees and their lawyers violates “the critical right to a meaningful attorney-client relationship necessary for an adversarial system to function.”
The government insists it is only implementing normal security procedures.
“Every detainee at Guantanamo has ample opportunity to get the help of lawyers, and there are notable examples of robust and functional attorney-client relationships being formed and of zealous, effective representation being provided,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief military prosecutor.
Just 25 minutes into the proceeding, the video and audio feed to the public was cut for one minute and replaced with white noise when an attorney for Walid bin Attash said something that an in-court security officer deemed to be classified. The proceedings are broadcast with a 40-second delay so classified information will not be divulged.