Just days before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, five alleged plotters of the attacks appeared in court for a pretrial hearing Tuesday, according to multiple news sources.
The five are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ammar al Baluchi, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. Sheikh Mohammed has been widely referred to as the mastermind behind the attacks.
The video above shows Guantanamo Bay, where the hearing took place, as well as clips from an interview with James Connell, the lawyer for al Baluchi.
According to CNN, Tuesday’s hearing was the first time the five have appeared in court since February 2020. They were originally arraigned back in 2012.
Since then, there’s been a series of delays. Tuesday’s hearing ended an 18-month delay caused by the pandemic and personnel changes. Connell said his client actually welcomed Tuesday’s pretrial hearing.
“The man has been in lockdown for as long as everyone else has been in lockdown, and to see people that he hasn’t, his legal team that he hasn’t seen in a long time is a cause for pleasure,” Connell said. “He’s pleased to be back in court, he’s pleased to see the case move forward, and he’s pleased to see his legal team after a long isolation related to Covid.”
One of the personnel changes that played a role in the latest delay was with the presiding judge. According to CNN, Tuesday’s hearing was the first in the case for Air Force Judge Col. Matthew N. McCall.
Whether or not McCall should preside over the case at all has been an ongoing issue. Prosecutors protested McCall’s appointment initially because he did not have two years of experience as a military judge. McCall recused himself and was later reappointed after he acquired the requisite experience to preside over the case.
CNN reported a military appeals court ruled McCall could preside Tuesday. However, the ruling also said any decisions McCall made while he served as the judge on the case before he acquired the requisite experience were no longer valid.
Four judges in total have presided over in-person hearings in the case. Pretrial hearings related to the judge are expected to continue on Wednesday.
James Connell, Lawyer for Ammar al Baluchi: “One of the most important issues in the case is how the torture of these men is going to ultimately affect the trial. And trials mean evidence and the destruction of evidence. The intentional destruction of evidence takes away from the defense and really the American people information about what actually happened.”
“While the defense was asking Judge McCall about the process that he had been replaced in the case earlier, the Court of Military Commission Review issued an opinion on that exact issue. The Court of Military Commission Review held that Judge McCall could continue on the case, but all the decisions that he had previously made in the case have to be vacated.”
“There are a lot of issues that drive that why this case takes so long, and today is a perfect example. Today, while we were dealing with either the fourth or the ninth judge in the case, depending on how you count. The court of military commission issued an opinion directly on the issues which were before the military commission. It’s just one more example of how having this case at Guantanamo means a whole lot of issues that would not be in play if it were taking place anywhere else. But it also illustrates how the military system is uniquely vulnerable to influence by people higher in the chain of command.”
“The blacksite is the best evidence of what actually the physical environment that Ammar al Baluchi and others were held in. The, which blacksite it is I don’t know; the government has never revealed it and it has never matched it up with any of the colors in the FBI report or the location numbers which are used in this case.”
“The next step in this is to appeal this decision by the Court of Military Commission Review to the D.C. Circuit. The D.C. Circuit is the first, civilian appellate court in the chain of review of this military commission.”
“Under the terms of regulation required by the military commission, this judge is now qualified.”
“I’m sure he (Ammar al Baluchi) was smiling in court because he was happy to see us. The man’s been in lockdown for as long as everyone else has been in lockdown. And to see people that he hasn’t. His legal team that he hadn’t seen in a long time, you know, is a cause for pleasure. ”
“He’s pleased to be back in court. He’s pleased to see the case move forward and he’s pleased to see his legal team after a long isolation related COVID.”