WASHINGTON: Lawyers for accused plotters of the September 11 attacks want President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush to testify at a military tribunal for “inflammatory statements” they argue have tainted proceedings.
The request by attorneys for three of the five suspects was included in a document made public Thursday calling for the dismissal of all charges against them.
The attorneys also requested testimony from six other officials, including Vice President Joe Biden.
Earlier this month, five men were formally charged with crimes that include murder and terrorism in a special military tribunal at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
They face the death penalty if convicted for their roles in the al Qaeda attacks in 2001 that claimed 2,976 lives in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“Widespread inflammatory statements from political leadership over the course of 10 years have saturated the community and given rise to unlawful influence,” the lawyers wrote.
“Dismissal of all charges is the only remedy that can cure the unlawful influence.” For the past 10 years, through the administrations of two presidents, these accused have consistently been described as 'thugs,' 'murderers,' and 'terrorists' who 'planned the 9/11 attacks' and must 'face justice,' they added.
“The military commissions act expressly prohibits any person from unlawfully influencing or coercing the action of a military commission.”
Statements at issue include an Obama remark about confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The president said: “I don't think it will be offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.”
Bush described Mohammed as “the top killer of the al Qaeda network,” while Biden said he was “absolutely convinced he will be put away for a long, long time.”
Others the lawyers want to see testify include US Attorney General Eric Holder, Pentagon attorney Jeh Johnson, Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as Bruce MacDonald, who oversees the Guantanamo tribunals, and chief prosecutor Mark Martins.
The military judge will ultimately decide who is called to testify.
Prosecutors have rejected the call for testimony, Walter Ruiz, who represents Saudi defendant Mustapha al-Hawsawi, said in a statement that deplored the manner in which witnesses are called in a military commission.
Lawyer James Connell, who represents Pakistani defendant Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, described prosecutors' rejection of their call for witnesses as a “gag order.”
This gag order is yet another layer of secrecy the prosecution has asked to impose on the case,” he said. “The military panel members will decide both guilt and innocence and the penalty, but they are not a jury.”
The motion to dismiss was submitted on behalf of Al-Hawsawi, Al-Baluchi and Ramzi Binalshibh.