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Hearings for accused 9-11 plotters make little headway

Stringer / Reuters

Family members of 9-11 victims are shown watching the pretrial hearings for five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States at a court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Thursday. Alexandra Scott, left, who lost her father Randy Scott, sits beside Martin and Dorine Toyen who lost their daughter Amy.

A week of hearings at a military court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba made slow headway towards a trial of five men accused of orchestrating the 9-11 terror attacks on the United States, ending Friday with few rulings on two dozen pretrial motions. 

On the final day of hearings none of the five accused men came to court, all opting to stay behind in their prison cells.

Army Col. Judge James Pohl heard several more hours of arguments on the issue of a gag order that prohibits any talk about the interrogations that the men were subjected to at secret CIA prison sites prior to their tranfer to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.  

The judge will likely issue a written decision on whether the defendants' memories of the events are in fact classified, as the protective order now states.

Judge Pohl did not rule on the other interesting motion discussed Friday — one that the Judge nicknamed "The C-SPAN Issue." The defense teams have requested that the trial be open to public television so the world can see the proceedings.

The defense argues that opening the trial to the public is necessary to prevent the appearance of an unfair trial.

The judge challenged that idea, arguing that by that logic every accused person in federal court cannot get a fair trial because it's not televised. He added that trials are not open to cameras in the military system either.

This case is different, defense attorney Marine Major William Hennessy argued.

Pohl countered by asking whether he should conclude that the lack of public television means that an accused person is not getting a fair trial.

"Yes, sir," Hennessy replied.

A prosecution attorney disagreed, saying that the First Amendment right to public access is not absolute, and that opening the trial to television cameras compromises the security of the trial participants.

Earlier in the week, self-professed mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was granted an opportunity for a brief airing of his views of the proceedings.

Wearing a camoflage vest over his traditional robes Mohammed condemned what he called prosecutors "elastic" use of national security to justify its actions.

"The government uses national security as it chooses," the Arabic-speaking Mohammed said through a translator while seated at a defense table. "Many can kill people under the name of national security and torture people in the name of national security."

Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators are accused of planning and providing logistical support for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.

If convicted they could face the death penalty, but the trial is many months away.

Pohl set the next motions hearings for Dec. 3-7, putting the attorneys on notice that they should plan to set aside at least one week, every other month.

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