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9/11 case unlikely to be ready for trial next year

October 21, 2012

GUANTANAMO BAY (Cuba), Oct 20: A weeklong hearing into the legal framework for the Sept 11 terrorism military tribunal came to an end on Friday without a ruling on the most significant motions but progress on some issues that must be resolved before the eventual trial.

After hours of often arcane debate at the US base in Cuba, the military judge presiding over the case deferred most decisions until later. Notable among them were proposed rules for handling classified evidence that prosecutors said were necessary to protect national security but defence lawyers argued were overly broad and restrictive.

Army Col James Pohl heard arguments on nearly 20 motions and did resolve some matters, including issuing a ruling that the five men charged with planning and aiding the Sept 11 attacks could sit out their pre-trial hearings.

While the extent of the progress was in dispute, both the chief prosecutor and defence lawyers agreed the case was unlikely to be ready for trial in 2013.

“We just scratched the very surface of the trial this week,” said James Connell, a lawyer for Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a Pakistani national accused of transferring money to the Sept 11 hijackers.

The chief prosecutor, Army Brig Gen Mark Martins, insisted there had been significant forward motion in the long-stalled case, notably hearing of all the arguments on the proposed security rules so the judge could issue what were known as protective orders that would allow the defence to begin reviewing classified evidence in the case.

“There are some important motions that we didn’t get to, but I would submit that’s the nature of litigation,” Martins said.

The five defendants facing charges that include terrorism and murder include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a self-styled terrorist mastermind who grew up in Kuwait and attended college in North Carolina. He condemned the US in a lecture to the court on Wednesday as he wore a camouflage vest that had been approved by the judge. None of the defendants appeared in court on Friday. Lawyers for the men cited several reasons, including that Friday was traditionally set aside by Muslims for prayers or that they did not recognise the proceedings as legitimate.

In the spectator section of the court the entire week were nine relatives of people who were killed in the Sept 11 attacks. Several said they were pleased to see some movement in the case, which was stalled by legal challenges and a political fight over whether the case should be tried in a civilian court in the US or at Guantanamo.

The judge heard lengthy arguments on a motion from the defence asking the judge to decide that the constitutional rights recognised in civilian criminal trials would apply in the special tribunals for war-time offences.

Prosecutors argued it was too soon to make that determination and the judge deferred a ruling. Most of the arguments centred on the proposed security rules, including provisions that the defence said would prevent the five prisoners from publicly disclosing what happened to them while detained in secret CIA prisons overseas. The US government says they were subjected to “enhanced interrogation”; critics say it was torture.—AP