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Guantanamo Capital Cases Slowly Inch Forward

By January 31, 2013

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ksmI've been covering the pretrial motion hearings in the two death penalty cases at Guantanamo Bay from a media viewing room at Fort Meade, Md. This week it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. Next week, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected mastermind in the USS Cole bombing, will be in court. And the following week, KSM and Co. will be back in court for another round.

Defense attorneys are petitioning that they should have the right to join their clients in confinement for 48-hour visits. Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, representing al-Hawsawi, explained that the attorneys want to go where they've never gone before: into Camp 7, the secretive, segregated, high-security area at Gitmo where the defendants in this capital case are held -- each facing 2,976 counts of murder in the worst terror attack on U.S. soil. The lawyers say they want the "best understanding of living conditions" of their clients, including "stressors," daily activities, lighting conditions, and so forth, and feel 48 hours would be the "bare minimum" to experience this. Prosecutors have offered a tightly controlled, high-security visit.

The defendants only appeared in court Monday and waived their right to be present the other days. Bin Attash told Judge James Pohl that they "don't have any motivating factors that would invite us to come to the court."

"There is nothing that would motivate us to come... we don't want this to be a personal issue between us and the judge," continued the terror suspect, who was captured in Karachi in 2003 aged in his mid-20s. "But I want you to understand the situation we are in -- the government does not want us to hear or understand or say anything and they don't want our attorneys to do anything."

Mohammed's civilian lawyer, David Nevin, today filed an emergency motion to suspend proceedings while they attempt to discover who may be listening in on privileged attorney-client conversations. Mohammed will have to show personally to that hearing, on order of the judge. There was additional controversy this week about a portion of the audio cut by a third-party censor of the proceedings, sparking anger from the judge.

The cases also take on an extra dimension as Mohammed and al-Nashiri are two of the suspects who were waterboarded in their interrogations. Nevin drops frequent references to the torture of his client in arguments, and the press rooms include not just traditional media but representatives of human rights organizations monitoring the cases in which they've taken an interest because of the interrogation methods used and the long pretrial confinements. Trials aren't even expected to start until next year or later.

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