9/11 defendants refuse to participate in arraignment

Before self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was brought into court Saturday, Carole Reuben of Potomac said his arraignment would mark "the beginning of the end of the process."

Her son, Todd Hayes Reuben, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that was hijacked by five al-Qaida operatives and flown into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The Potomac man was 40.

But any hope that the arraignments of Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators might bring some healing to family members, a decade after they lost loved ones in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was stymied Saturday by a halting proceeding in which the defendants refused to participate.

The courtroom wrangling at Guantanamo Bay was broadcast to Fort Meade and several other military bases in the United States, so victims' relatives, the public and the media could watch. At Fort Meade, 10 family members were escorted to a theater to watch the secure, closed-circuit television feed.

The Army base in Anne Arundel County was the viewing site closest to the Pentagon, where 125 people died on Sept. 11. Members of the public watched from the Post Theater; victims' relatives sat in a section surrounded by temporary walls for privacy. News reporters viewed the feed from a separate location.

What they saw was a contentious session that lasted nearly 10 hours and ended without pleas. Defense attorneys said they had not been allowed to meet with their clients in private, away from government monitors, and defendants declined to acknowledge the questions of Col. James L. Pohl, the military judge.

At one point, defendant Ramzi Binal Shibh rose from his chair, bent down and prostrated himself on the floor, apparently in prayer.

Later, he interrupted the proceeding to allege that he had been threatened at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp where he and the others are being held. "Maybe you are not going to see me any more," he told Pohl. "They are going to kill us and say that we have committed suicide."

The defendants — Mohammed, Binal Shibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi — face charges including terrorism and murder in the deaths of 2,976 on Sept. 11. If convicted, each could be sentenced to death.

The five declined to enter pleas Saturday.

The proceeding was, in fact, their second arraignment. They were presented before a military commission in 2008, but their case was halted the following year when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that they would be tried instead in federal court in New York.

New Yorkers objected, Congress passed legislation forbidding the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, and the case returned to an updated military commission system.

Events of the last year have served to keep reminding family members of their loss. There was the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan a year ago, followed by the 10th anniversary of the attacks in September, and now the arraignments.

"It doesn't end," Reuben said. "It's just an ongoing thing."

Reuben, her husband and daughter have entered their names in a lottery to travel to Guantanamo Bay for the trial. Reuben said she wants to know as much as possible about what happened that day.

"I doubt whether there's too much that we don't already know, but I'd be interested in seeing what the prosecution and the defense have to say," she said.

But she and others ignored Satuday's viewing opportunity.

Alan Linton of Frederick lost his son, Alan Jr., an investment banker, at the World Trade Center. He said he and his wife put their names in the lottery for the Cuba trip but weren't interested in watching a video feed of the arraignment.

"That's just not the same as being there to me," Linton said. "Going to Fort Meade, it's kind of like watching television."

The five defendants, who are held in a prison so secret that its location on Guantanamo Bay is classified, were taken early Saturday to the courtroom to be formally charged and to enter their pleas.

An 88-page charge sheet details alleged planning for the "planes operation," from 1996 discussions between Mohammed and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden about flying planes into buildings through recruiting hijackers and sending them out on "casing missions" — carrying razors through airport security and taking flights to count the number of passengers seated in first class, business and economy.

Mohammed's co-defendants are accused of supporting roles in the attacks.

Binal Shibh allegedly researched flight schools for the hijackers. Bin Attash is accused of running an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and researching flight simulators and timetables.

Al-Hawsawi allegedly helped the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler's checks and credit cards. Abd al-Aziz Ali, a nephew of Mohammed, is accused of giving money to the hijackers.

The tone for Saturday's proceeding was set at the beginning, when Pohl asked Mohammed whether he could hear an Arabic translation of his remarks through earphones the court had provided. Mohammed, dressed in a white robe and turban, and wearing a long, beard streaked with red, ignored the question. The former No. 3 leader of al-Qaida appeared thinner than in the famous photograph in which he appeared as a disheveled fugitive immediately after his capture in Pakistan in 2003.

David Nevin, Mohammed's civilian attorney, told Pohl that his client is "deeply concerned" about the fairness of the military commission process, the proceedings that led up to the arraignments on Saturday, and limits on what Nevin and Mohammed have been allowed to discuss.

As Nevin spoke, Mohammed removed his earphones. Other defendants soon did the same.

Pohl directed interpreters to bypass the earphones and provide translation in the courtroom. He then advised Mohammed of his right to an attorney, and asked if he understood. Mohammed sat impassively.

It was a sharp contrast from his appearance at a 2007 hearing, when he spoke at length. He said then that he was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11 "from A to Z," the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and more than two dozen other plots.

He compared himself to George Washington fighting the British. He said he was "not happy" that people died on Sept. 11, but killing is "the language of the war."

The following year, Mohammed told a military commission that he did not want an attorney, but intended to plead guilty to the charges because he sought martyrdom.

But he did not speak Saturday. He took occasional sips from a bottle of water and read from a copy of The Economist.

Pohl said that if the defendants chose not to participate, the proceeding would go forward without them. He appointed the lawyers that have been representing them to continue to do so through the arraignment, and said that if they did not enter pleas, pleas of not guilty would eventually be entered for them.

Most of the session was devoted to a discussion about Pohl. Defense attorneys spent the afternoon questioning the judge on his background and whether any of his associations or opinions would affect his impartiality in the proceeding.

Cheryl Bormann, the civilian attorney for Waleed bin Attash, asked that women on the prosecution team be given guidance on how to dress in court so that the defendants could look at them without fear of "committing a sin under their faith." Bormann wore a black robe and headscarf.

Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the lead prosecutor, responded by saying that all of his lawyers had been legally assigned to the prosecution team and were qualified to represent the government.

Bin Attash began the hearing shackled to his chair for reasons that were not explained. His attorney objected, saying the restraints were uncomfortable, and they were preventing bin Attash from replacing his earphones when they fell from his ears.

Pohl told bin Attash that he would consider ordering the restraints removed if Bin Attash promised to conduct himself appropriately. Bin Attash did not respond.

After several minutes of discussion, bin Attash told his attorney, Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz, that he would remain seated if the restraints were removed. Pohl accepted and ordered bin Attash unshackled.

Nevin said Mohammed had been strip-searched before entering the courtroom, which he said had not been done before. Bomann said bin Attash had scars on his arms from his treatment and she was concerned for his safety. Attorney James Harrington said Binal Shibh was being denied access to his legal papers.

All of the attorneys said their clients had not been allowed to wear the clothing of their choice to the arraignment.

"These kinds of things inflame the situation," Nevin said.

Attorney James Connell, who represents Abd al-Aziz Ali, described the arraignment as "only the beginning of a trial that will take years to complete, followed by years of appellate review."

"I can't imagine any scenario where this thing gets wrapped up in six months," Connell told reporters at Guantanamo Bay.

The cases are moving forward after the guilty plea of a former Baltimore County man in February.

Majid Shoukat Khan, the first of the 14 so-called high-value detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be convicted, could testify in the trial of his alleged former colleagues.

Khan, a native of Pakistan who landed in Catonsville in 1996 and graduated from Owings Mills High School three years later, pleaded guilty in February to conspiring with Mohammed and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in plots in Indonesia, Pakistan and the United States.

Under his plea agreement, he will serve no more than 19 years for his role in a 2003 suicide car bombing at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta that killed 11, provided he gives the government his "full and truthful cooperation."

His testimony is expected to help prosecutors work around evidence obtained through torture.

Sun reporter Steve Kilar and the Associated Press contributed to this article.