Pleas Deferred In Sept. 11 Case

The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and four other men had a contentious day in a military commission arraignment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Saturday. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston tells host Rachel Martin what happened.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other men yesterday and much of last night in a military courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was the first time in three years that the five men had been seen in public and they were in court for an arraignment to answer the terrorism charges against them. But the men did their best to disrupt the proceedings. They refused to answer the judge's questions, wouldn't listen to the hearing in Arabic on headphones. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston was in the courtroom yesterday, and she joins us from Guantanamo with the latest. Dina, can you tell us more about what was going on in the courtroom yesterday?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, it didn't take long to figure out what the defense strategy was. The chief prosecutor, Brigadier General Mark Martins, was about halfway through his first sentence when one of the defense attorneys stood up and immediately asked the judge to consider a motion that basically said the entire case should be thrown out. And then it just got worse.

One of the defendants, Ramzi Binalshibh, who allegedly was one of the plot's money men, he got up and started laying out a prayer rug and chanting. And then another defendant, a man named Walid bin Attash, was actually tied to a chair because apparently he had a scuffle with guards. And he started complaining that he was in pain because he was restrained. And then Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the sort of marquee name in all of this, the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, he was in the front of the room basically giving the other four men all these subtle cues to sort of direct their misbehavior.

I mean, it was really clear that this was at least part of their defense strategy, that they basically wanted to make the military commissions trial as chaotic as possible.

MARTIN: Now, yesterday was just an arraignment as I understand, but they didn't enter pleas. They deferred their pleas. What are the implications of that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, by deferring their pleas is meant to draw out the process a little bit. I mean, everybody is coming back in June to deal with a bunch of motions that were filed. And one of them makes the argument that the proceedings weren't brought to court properly. Another is about attorney-client privilege because all the mail in the detention center is opened, even if it's mailed to detainees from their lawyers. So, that needs a ruling.

I mean, the point here is that we shouldn't expect any trial to happen any time soon. I mean, usually when you have an arraignment, you sort of expect witnesses to come to the dock right away, and that's just not going to happen. The government said they could go to trial as early as this August, but the defense has said they want at least another year to prepare. So, this arraignment really only marks the beginning of something that's going to be a very long process.

MARTIN: One of the big issues in the case has been the way these defendants have been treated while in U.S. custody. Did defense attorneys bring this up in the hearing?

TEMPLE-RASTON: That was a really big issue for the defense. They tried to get the word torture into the discussion literally at every turn. And the CIA had admitted that two of the accused - KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh - were both waterboarded. And military prosecutors have said they won't use any evidence that was derived from torture, but the defense has said the harsh treatment of their clients is central to their case and it really affects everything related to it.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reporting from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks were arraigned yesterday. Thanks so much, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

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