June 06, 2008

WAR CRIMES DOSSIER: Guantanamo Bay update

GUANTÁNAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Self-proclaimed Al Qaeda No. 3 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told a military tribunal Thursday that he would welcome the martyrdom of execution for masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people.

"This is what I wish," Mohammed told a judge who warned that he might be executed if convicted. "I am looking to be martyred for a long time."

He said he was rejecting legal representation and would defend himself.

Mohammed, 43, identified in the 9/11 Commission report as the "principal architect" of the attacks, is accused of murder with four codefendants, who also appeared at an arraignment at the U.S. naval base. Mohammed said he and the others were tortured after their capture by U.S. forces and now face a proceeding that "is inquisition, it is not trial."

"After torturing, they transferred us to inquisition-land in Guantánamo," Mohammed said. "We don't have a right to anything."

The five defendants are charged with conspiring to finance, train and direct the 19 hijackers who seized four airliners used in the attacks that killed 2,973 people. The charges carry the death penalty.

The men spoke to each other and laughed as they pointed to reporters seated in a glassed-in spectators' gallery. "It seemed to be a reunion" of the suspects, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, who represents Ramzi Binalshibh, 36, told reporters during a break.

Binalshibh, too, said he has "been seeking martyrdom for five years. I tried for 9/11 to get a visa, and I could not." He is accused of trying four times to get into the United States in 2000 by seeking travel visas, which were denied.

"If martyrdom happens to me today, I welcome it," he told the trial judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann.

Lachelier said it was her impression that Mohammed was orchestrating his codefendants to refuse counsel.

Mohammed wore a white turban and tunic and stroked his long salt-and-pepper beard as his lawyers introduced themselves to the court. His attendance at the tribunal marked his first public appearance since he was captured in Pakistan in 2003. He was held by the CIA until his 2006 transfer to Guantánamo.

During a March 10, 2007, Guantánamo hearing to declare him an enemy combatant, Mohammed said he was "responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z," according to a Defense Department transcript. He claimed that in 2002, he beheaded Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped in Pakistan.

Mohammed cited religious and political reasons for refusing to be represented by a lawyer. The judge rejected defense attorney David Nevin's argument that Mohammed's waiver of legal representation was not voluntary because "he wants to die; he is suicidal."

Justice Department and military officials have said they expect legal challenges from defense lawyers on issues such as the admissibility of evidence obtained from CIA interrogations, which human rights advocates say included techniques amounting to torture. The CIA acknowledged Mohammed was one of three Al Qaeda operatives subjected to waterboarding, which simulates drowning. The CIA says it no longer uses the technique.

Individual trial judges may decide to admit statements from interrogations that involved waterboarding, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the court's chief legal adviser, said Wednesday. He said officials seek to begin the trial in September. The defense is seeking to disqualify him as the legal adviser overseeing the military court in the case.

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