Officials Expecting Halt to 9/11 Proceedings
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Jan. 19 -- On the eve of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, military commission proceedings lumbered forward against five men accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and, separately, against a Canadian charged with killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. But with the president-elect having promised to close down the detention facility here, the military base was infused with a sense that this legal process is doomed.
Both the prosecution and defense had sought a delay, which was denied, and government officials here are expecting an order down the chain of command shortly after the inauguration telling them to halt proceedings, sources said.
Judge Stephen R. Henley, an Army colonel, intimated several times Monday that the rulings he issued or the matters under discussion in a series of pretrial motions might well be moot.
"If later sessions are scheduled," Henley said, addressing one legal matter. Later he referred to "the next session -- should it occur." He also said, "It will be scheduled -- if at all -- in the future."
"You get a sense from the judge's statements that the commissions are going to stop very soon," said Army Maj. Jon Jackson, military counsel for Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a Saudi national accused of war crimes and murder for his alleged role in the 9/11 attacks.
Obama has not detailed a process to shut down the detention center, but defense attorneys here anticipate that he will suspend proceedings before laying out a plan to deal with the roughly 245 detainees who remain imprisoned. Some detainees are likely to be returned home, others resettled in third countries, and an unknown number transferred to federal courts or military courts-martial for prosecution.
At the 9/11 hearing Monday, the defendants gave no indication that they were aware of any pending decision by Obama. But the proceeding was again marked by interjections from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who asserted responsibility for organizing the attacks, as he has in the past, but with an apparent dig at his ostensible boss.
"I am the mastermind of 9/11, not Osama bin Laden," Mohammed said during argument over whether the case needed to be re-arraigned because of a technical error by Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official charged with deciding who goes to trial at Guantanamo. The judge ruled that the case could go forward despite the error.
Mohammed also waved a copy of The Washington Post containing an article by Bob Woodward in which Crawford said another detainee was tortured at Guantanamo Bay. The matter arose during a discussion about an order signed by the judge to protect classified information, which the defense said was too broad.
One of the defense attorneys argued that the order would prevent them from discussing the article containing Crawford's statements or any public document that referred to the CIA or other intelligence agencies.
"Everybody knows this order was written by the CIA," Mohammed said. "Their true reason is to protect themselves against their own wrongdoing."
During the discussion, a civilian lawyer advising Mohammed noted that his daughter lives in Iran and has tuberculosis. He said the order prevented his passing information to Iran that Mohammed had provided about his family's medical history because defendants' statements are presumptively classified. The judge said he might amend the order.