‘Guantanamo Five’ Hear Charges, Reject Counsel
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
U.S. NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Jun. 5, 2008 Five accused terrorists heard the charges filed against them for their alleged role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America at an arraignment held here today.
The judge, Marine Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann, informed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin Attash, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi of the nature of the charges filed against them, which include terrorism, conspiracy, hijacking and murder.
All of the defendants voluntarily attended today’s arraignment proceedings. All five would reject court-appointed defense counsel before the day-long hearing was over.
Each defendant was served nine referred charges, including two specifications of one of the charges, on May 21.
Kohlmann reconvened the hearing this afternoon after presiding over the morning’s session, in which he observed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin Attash fully understood their decisions to represent themselves during court proceedings.
This afternoon, Attash reiterated to Kohlmann that he will represent himself in court proceedings.
Another defendant, Ramzi bin al Shibh, told the court earlier today that he didn’t trust U.S. military members, which could serve among his court-appointed legal counsel.
During the afternoon session, lawyer Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier asked for a continuance for al Shibh, her client, because he has yet to develop a rapport with his lawyers, and he is taking medication.
Kohlmann denied Lachelier’s request for a continuance and then advised Shibh as to his rights to legal counsel.
Al Shibh immediately voiced his objection to Lachelier’s contention, telling Kohlmann that he has “complete capability” and awareness to understand the charges against him and the ability to serve as his own legal counsel, without participation by military or civilian lawyers.
“I’m ready to represent myself,” al Shibh declared.
“To you they are accusations or charges; to me they are not,” al Shibh said of his alleged crimes, adding that he understands that he could be sentenced to death if he’s convicted of the charges leveled against him.
“I’ve been seeking martyrdom for five years,” al Shibh declared.
Kohlmann then asked al Shibh about the medication that he is reported to be taking. The court then took a brief recess.
Upon reconvening the court, Kohlmann said al Shibh is presumed to have the capability to stand trial at this time. However, the judge said he wants al Shibh’s medication issue clarified, in particular, how it may affect the defendant’s thinking. Kohlmann then directed that al Shibh’s military lawyers carry on as his legal advisors for the time being.
Al Shibh said he understood the judge’s decision, but argued that his mental capacity was “fine.”
“I’m not going to force lawyers on you that you don’t want,” Kohlmann told al Shibh. However, it also is important to ascertain the defendant’s mental fitness for trial, the judge said.
Kohlmann then asked defendant Ali Abdul Aziz Ali about his defense counsel.
“I feel that the (U.S.) government is trying to compromise me from the beginning,” Ali told Kohlmann. The American government, he added, “failed to treat me as a human … for five years.”
“I cannot accept lawyers under these conditions,” Ali declared. U.S.-provided military or civilian lawyers cannot represent his best interests, the defendant said.
“I just want to represent myself,” Ali emphasized. However, his court-appointed lawyers, the defendant noted, could serve as his stand-by council. Ali said he read and understands the charges against him and that he realizes that he could be sentenced to death if he is convicted.
“I’m not seeing justice, Mr. Judge,” Ali said to Kohlmann. The court’s proceedings are “political games,” the defendant said.
Kohlmann then recessed the hearing for an hour for Muslim prayer call.
As the arraignment reconvened the judge noted that some statements made by al Shibn during the previous session were captured and suspended by the court’s audio delay system because of security concerns. At the start of the hearing this morning, Kohlmann noted there’d be a 20-second delay in closed-circuit coverage of the arraignment, since any statements from any of the accused would at first be considered classified. A security officer posted in the court would review all defendants’ statements to ascertain if any sensitive information was divulged, the judge explained.
Kohlmann emphasized that he does not desire to limit public information that comes out of the hearing.
The judge then addressed the case of Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, the fifth defendant to be arraigned today. Hawsawi’s detailed military lawyer, Army Maj. Jon Jackson, asked Kohlmann to delay the arraignment until Hawsawi could make a decision regarding his choice of legal counsel.
Jackson said one of Hawsawi’s choices to defend him couldn’t meet with him recently because of that military lawyer’s lack of appropriate security clearance at the time.
Kohlmann responded that Hawsawi could request that Jackson and other members on his current court-appointed legal team remain in place for the time being. The military lawyer Hawsawi wanted to meet with was now at Guantanamo and possesses the appropriate clearance, the judge said.
Kohlmann asked Hawsawi if he had any objection if Jackson as well as Navy Lt. Gretchen Sosbee on his defense team would continue to represent him.
Hawsawi then replied: “I will represent myself.”
Kohlmann then denied Jackson’s motion for a continuance of the arraignment.
The judge then ascertained that Hawsawi didn’t want to be represented by Jackson or Sosbee.
“I will represent myself, by myself,” Hawsawi reiterated to Kohlmann. The defendant said he’d read the charges filed against him, but didn’t understand them all fully.
Hawsawi told Kohlmann that he’d only had a few hours to meet with his attorney and didn’t discuss the charges.
Kohlmann told Hawsawi that he could receive a sentence of death if he were to be convicted of the charges against him. Hawsawi said he understood that.
The judge then directed that Jackson and Sosbee continue to represent Hawsawi for the time being.
Kohlmann also said he wouldn’t make a decision today whether or not he’d accept Hawsawi’s waiver of rights of counsel. The judge said he’d set a litigation schedule for the motion for Hawsari to sever relations with his present court-appointed military attorneys.
Hawsawi then asked for a few minutes to talk things over with his attorneys. Kohlmann denied the defendant’s request for the time being.
Kohlmann also said he would not hear any pleas to charges from any of the defendants today.
Afterward, the prosecutor read the charges filed against the defendants.
The jury, or panel, will now be assembled in preparation for trial at Guantanamo, Kohlmann said, noting he’d issue a trial order as soon as practicable. The judge then recessed the arraignment.
The arraignment is held under the auspices of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The act establishes procedures governing the use of Military Commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses that can be tried by Military Commission, according to a Military Commission fact sheet.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks by proposing the operational concept to Osama bin Laden as early as 1996. He is accused of obtaining approval and funding from bin Laden for the attacks, overseeing the entire operation and training the hijackers in all aspects of the operation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin Attash allegedly administered an al-Qaida training camp in Logar, Afghanistan, where two of the Sept. 11 hijackers were trained.
Ramzi bin al Shibh allegedly lived with the Hamburg, Germany, al-Qaida cell where three of the Sept. 11 hijackers resided. It is alleged that Shibh was originally selected by bin Laden to be one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, but he was unable to obtain a U.S. visa, and therefore couldn’t enter the United States to participate in the attacks. He allegedly assisted in finding flight schools for the hijackers in the United States and engaged in various financial transactions in support of the attacks.
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali allegedly sent about $120,000 to the hijackers for their expenses and flight training tuition. He also allegedly helped nine hijackers travel to the United States.
Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi allegedly assisted and prepared the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler’s checks and credit cards. He also allegedly facilitated the transfer of thousands of dollars between the accounts of the hijackers and himself on Sept. 11, 2001.
Robert Swann, one of the assistant prosecutors and a civilian lawyer working for the Defense Department, attended the arraignment in place of the chief prosecutor, who had been excused today by the judge.