Horror of 9/11 revisited in Guantanamo military court

(iStock)
(iStock)

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base - The horror of September 11 2001 dominated proceedings in a Guantanamo Bay military court on Friday, a stark contrast from previous days of rambling testimony that strayed far from the events of 14 years ago.

The so-called "9/11 Five" - the men accused of plotting the terror attacks that killed about 3 000 people - were in court this week for pre-trial hearings ahead of an eventual capital trial that could still be years away.

Already, their prosecution is one of the longest in American history, and allegations of government misconduct in the years since the men's capture in the early 2000s have hampered prosecutors' attempts to nudge the case to trial. All five face the death penalty if convicted.

In response to a motion to have the entire case dismissed because President Barack Obama and other senior officials made public statements in which the accused appear already to have been deemed guilty, prosecutor Bob Swann sought to remind military judge Colonel James Pohl what was at stake.

"One might expect that the leader of this nation... might have something to say when 19 men hijack aircraft and fly them into buildings," Swann said.

"No one can and should think that the presidents of these United States would remain silent when 2 976 of its treasures are stolen."

He went on to describe the "unprecedented shock and suffering" of 9/11 and used graphic language to describe the deaths of hundreds of first responders and other victims.

The so-called 9/11 Five are: alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash and Ramzi Binalshibh of Yemen, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali - Mohammed's nephew - and Mustapha al-Hawsawi of Saudi Arabia.

Defence attorneys want the case dropped because they say statements made by Obama, former attorney general Eric Holder and other senior officials have tainted any prospective jury pool.

"This process is undermined by the putrid stench of all the influence that has been visited upon it," al-Hawsawi's attorney Walter Ruiz said.

Defence attorneys also have a litany of complaints about government conduct, starting with the torture of their clients in the years following their capture.

They also say the government used bugs to listen in on attorney-client meetings and seized privileged notes.

While dismissal of the epic case is an extreme long shot, defence attorneys hope their "unlawful influence" motion might at least persuade Pohl to take the death penalty off the table.

Much of this week's proceedings were dominated by a still-unresolved issue of whether women prison guards should be allowed to escort the strict Muslim defendants to the courthouse.

Obama wants to close the prison at Guantanamo, but has been frustrated by a reluctant Congress.

The facility has housed about 780 detainees since the start of 2002. Currently, 107 remain.

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