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Judge Lets 9/11 Defendants Urge Detainee to Appear

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Sept. 22 -- A military judge on Monday ordered Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the accused Sept. 11, 2001, plotters, brought to court here by force if necessary, after he refused to leave his cell to attend a hearing in his case.

But the presiding judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, also decided to let Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged operational planner of the terrorist attacks, and three other defendants write letters to Binalshibh to encourage his appearance Tuesday morning without recourse to force.

Binalshibh's lead attorney said that, after receiving the letters, Binalshibh agreed to appear in court Tuesday.

Binalshibh acted as a liaison between the Hamburg cell that spearheaded the attack and al-Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan. He refused to come to court Monday for hearings on a series of motions before his trial, which has yet to be scheduled. Binalshibh, who wants to represent himself, has also declined to meet with his military or civilian attorneys.

The pretrial hearings also will cover defense demands for more resources, the production of transcripts of proceedings in Arabic and requests by Binalshibh's counsel for the appointment of clinical and forensic psychologists.

Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, Binalshibh's lead attorney, said there are substantial questions about Binalshibh's mental state and his competence to stand trial. She noted that among the medications being administered to him "is a psychotropic drug prescribed to persons with schizophrenia."

Binalshibh's attorneys said it remains unclear whether the detainee has been diagnosed with schizophrenia or if the drug, which they declined to identify because the information is classified, is being used for behavior control.

Two psychiatrists hired by the government examined Binalshibh two weeks ago, but defense attorneys said they have not received a report of the findings. The defense is seeking to have its own independent examination of Binalshibh and asked that the proceedings be suspended until a hearing is held on his competence to stand trial.

The judge rejected the motion, siding with the prosecution.

"Our position is that you don't get to opt out," said Army Col. Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor. "He is presumed competent."

The prosecution's desire to see Binalshibh brought to court was stymied, however, when the military refused to forcibly extract him from his cell without a formal order from the judge. The behind-the-scenes standoff led the judge to suspend proceedings.

As the judge discussed the legal wrangle with the prosecution, Mohammed raised his hand and offered to meet with Binalshibh in an effort to persuade him to come to court. The other defendants also said they would help out.

"I agree with my brother Sheik Mohammed," said Tawfiq bin Attash, another of the defendants. "We don't have to do any fight with Mr. Ramzi. He doesn't trust anyone in government, but he does trust us."

"I appreciate that input," the judge said.

Kohlmann refused to sanction a meeting but did agree to let Mohammed and the others write to Binalshibh. Both the defense and the prosecution accepted the judge's proposal.

After the hearing, each of the four defendants wrote a short letter and each signed the others' letters, lawyers said.

"They were really plain vanilla," Lachelier said of the letters. "They were communicating they want to stay together."

The judge also said that Binalshibh should be asked again to meet with his attorneys. But Kohlmann refused to let Lachelier meet him in his cell, which is at a secret location here. Instead, Lachelier said, Binalshibh would be have to be transported, hooded and shackled, in a van with blacked-out windows to any meeting. Lachelier said that may add to Binalshibh's reluctance to meet her.

The prosecution refused to discuss the issue. "I cannot talk about security-based procedures that govern access to these detainees," Morris said.

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