By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Sept. 23 -- Invoking names such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted organizer of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, probed the private opinions of the military judge who is overseeing his case Tuesday in a series of sometimes testy exchanges during a hearing on the judge's impartiality.
Mohammed, wearing a black turban, began by asking Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann about his religious beliefs and whether he had any association with the religious organizations of Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell.
"If you are in one of those denominations, you are not going to be fair," said Mohammed, who switched between Arabic and English when he spoke to the judge. The judge said he had not belonged to any congregation for some time but had attended Lutheran and Episcopal churches.
The pretrial hearing provided Mohammed and four other defendants facing murder and war crimes charges for their alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks with the opportunity to discover any bias that would suggest Kohlmann should recuse himself. Three of the five, including Mohammed, are representing themselves.
Kohlmann, who will rule on his own impartiality, noted that he had responded to nearly 600 questions in writing. Tuesday's proceeding allowed the defendants and their attorneys to ask follow-up questions.
Ramzi Binalshibh, another defendant, interjected, "Your last name is Kohlmann, which is a Jewish name, not a Christian name." Kohlmann told him he was mistaken.
Binalshibh had previously refused to appear in court but showed up voluntarily Tuesday after Mohammed and the other defendants, with the court's approval, sent notes to his cell asking him to take his seat.
Binalshibh continued to insist that he represents himself and attacked his lawyers for, among other things, raising questions about his mental state. Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, Binalshibh's assigned military defense attorney, noted that Binalshibh was reading a newspaper article and apparently oblivious when the judge was explaining the defendant's need to be in court and his rights.
"She was busy writing," retorted Binalshibh, who said he simply did not want to look at the judge. He added forcefully: "I am not mentally incompetent."
Apart from Binalshibh's interruption, Mohammed was the only defendant to question the judge. He focused for some time on a seminar the judge led at his daughter's high school in 2005. The judge, who revealed the seminar in a previous case held at Guantanamo Bay, held a class on the legal and ethical issues associated with torture or coercive interrogation.
"It appears that you are supportive of torture for the sake of national security. Is that correct?" Mohammed asked.
Kohlmann said he laid out a "ticking-bomb scenario" and then challenged the students to examine their initial responses. But he said he provided no answer to "what would be permissible or ethical or lawful."
Lawyers for the other defendants also probed the judge's attitude toward torture and its definition, but Kohlmann largely sidestepped the issue.
Mohammed's sometimes rambling disquisition even touched on the Marine Corps Rifleman's Creed. "Is that right: Every Marine is a rifleman?" Mohammed asked, wondering aloud how any Marine could judge him and the other defendants when the Corps was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and "killing our people."
When Kohlmann told Mohammed that some of his questions were irrelevant, the defendant muttered aloud, "You reject to answer."
Kohlmann then warned Mohammed that he will be held to the same standard as any lawyer before the court and that he risked losing his ability to represent himself if he persisted with such asides.
The judge also said Mohammed's questions seemed to be an attempt "to develop a personality profile." The exchange came after Mohammed asked whether the judge read books by Billy Graham or Pat Buchanan, and what movies he watched.
"I decline to provide you with my reading list or my movie list," Kohlmann said.