9/11 Architect Is Unlikely to Aid Defense Of Ex-Driver

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, July 30 -- The self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has refused to meet with attorneys for Osama bin Laden's former driver and probably will not testify at the driver's military trial, the lawyers said Wednesday.

Attorneys for the former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, had sought the testimony of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and seven other detainees at the U.S. military prison here, in the belief they could exonerate Hamdan of terrorism conspiracy charges. Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, has provided written answers to questions from Hamdan's attorneys.

But Mohammed sent word to the defense that "he's not inclined to come to court," Harry Schneider, a lawyer for Hamdan, said at a hearing. "I see no value in trying to bring him forcibly to testify," Schneider said. He added that it is likely that Mohammed's written answers will be submitted to the jury instead.

The development is a potential blow to Hamdan's chances of acquittal in the first U.S. military commission since World War II. Mohammed was expected to tell the jury that Hamdan was a minor figure, and the military judge has said his testimony is potentially exculpatory.

Whether Hamdan was an al-Qaeda insider who ferried weapons, as the charges say, or a mere chauffeur, as his defense team contends, was the focus of the trial Wednesday.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Robert McFadden testified that Hamdan told him in a 2003 interrogation that Hamdan had pledged bayat, or sworn allegiance, to bin Laden. McFadden quoted Hamdan as saying that he had an "uncontrollable enthusiasm" for bin Laden's mission of "expelling the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula."

The testimony is potentially significant because a pledge of bayat would signal a closer relationship between Hamdan and the al-Qaeda leader than other government witnesses have established.

But McFadden's statement was made outside the presence of the jury because defense attorneys are seeking to have it thrown out, contending that the 2003 interrogation of Hamdan was coercive. The judge, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, said in a preliminary ruling that Hamdan's admissions would not be allowed into evidence unless prosecutors could prove they were not made under coercive conditions.

The judge convened a hearing on that issue Wednesday, and McFadden testified that the conversation he and another agent had with Hamdan was "friendly, cordial." Hamdan said it was "regular" conversation," during which he did not complain of mistreatment. But he denied pledging bayat to bin Laden.

Allred said he would rule by Thursday morning.

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