GUY RAZ, HOST:
We head now to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where five men charged in the planning of the September 11th attacks were arranged today. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and four others were seen publicly for the first time in three years. The proceedings gave a first look at the strategy of the defense.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston was in the courtroom and joins us now from Guantanamo. Dina, tell us what happened in the courtroom there today.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, it was a little chaotic. You know, there's five men on trial, so the courtroom is really full. It's full of their lawyers. It's full of advisers. And it's full of them. And they brought in a man named Ramzi bin al-Shibh first. He allegedly wanted to come to the U.S. and be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but he couldn't get a visa. So the prosecution says he helped get money for the hijackers to finance the plot. Anyway, he's the one who walked in first, and he was wearing traditional Muslim clothes and a white skullcap. And he came in, and he immediately opened a Quran and started to pray.
RAZ: And then they brought in the defendants one by one.
TEMPLE-RASTON: They did. I mean, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, you know, sort of the marquee name here, the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, he came in last. And you could see that all the defendants were watching him really carefully as the guards led him to the front of the courtroom. And what was interesting is as the proceedings went on, you could tell that they were taking cues from him.
For example, he decided not to answer any of the questions the judge was asking him, not even to acknowledge the judge. And, for example, he refused to put on headphones giving him an Arabic translation, and then all the other defendants did exactly the same thing. And it was really remarkable to watch them fall into line behind him.
RAZ: Mm-hmm. Dina, one of the big questions, of course, in this case is the way detainees were treated. The CIA has admitted to waterboarding two of the defendants. Did that come up at all today?
TEMPLE-RASTON: In fact, it was the elephant in the room. The defense attorneys tried to bring up torture at almost every turn. They said their clients weren't wearing those headphones with the Arabic translation because it reminded them of the torture. And they used that word. They used the word torture. And they said they had experienced it in custody.
And one of the techniques used in an enhanced interrogation is to put headphones on a prisoner and play music really loud, and the lawyer said that the translation coming through the earphones had reminded their clients of that.
RAZ: Dina, this was an arraignment, but no pleas of guilt or innocence.
TEMPLE-RASTON: No. I mean, this is one of the differences between the federal courts and the military commissions. Usually, an arraignment is a process of getting a plea, guilty or not guilty. In the military commissions, if someone enters a plea at an arraignment, then there's a deadline to get them to the sentencing phase. Essentially, the door closes on the ability to file motions or, for example, say the military commissions are unfair.
Because the military commission system is so new, there's like a huge number of motions. And if they were to go right to a guilty plea now, they wouldn't be able to sort of register their reservations about the case.
RAZ: And so, Dina, what comes next?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this is going to be a long drawn-out process. And the defense is trying to say that the case wasn't properly brought to the military commissions. And if they win that motion, then everything would start all over again. In other words, going forward, there are going to be lots of procedural issues before we ever get to the traditional trial stuff involving evidence or pleas or witnesses.
And the defendants have said in the past that they want to die as martyrs, and this is a death penalty case. But from what we saw today, it doesn't look like they're just going to plead guilty and hurry up the inevitable. They're going to make the government prove their case, try to talk about torture at the hands of the U.S. and then draw that out as long as they can.
RAZ: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, covering the arraignment of the five men charged in the planning of the September 11th attacks. Dina, thanks.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.