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Sept. 11 Defendants Focus On Torture During Hearing

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Sept. 11 Defendants Focus On Torture During Hearing

National Security

Sept. 11 Defendants Focus On Torture During Hearing

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene, good morning.

The alleged mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other defendants appeared in a military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay over the weekend. The hearing was supposed to be a straightforward arraignment where the men would enter their pleas, but turns out nothing went according to plan. The men ignored the judge, sometimes broke out into prayer, and once shouted to the judge that guards in the prison might kill them.

Their strategy was to make the way they've been treated while in captivity the center of the discussion. And it appears they succeeded.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: It took just half an hour for the word torture to be said for the first time. It started with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Just minutes into the proceeding, he refused to put on headphones that provided an Arabic translation of what was going on around him.

When the judge asked him questions, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also known as KSM, pretended he couldn't hear. The other four men followed his lead. When one of the defense attorneys tried to explain why all this was going on, that the headphones reminded the men of their time in CIA captivity, the press watching from behind soundproof glass in the gallery heard something like this...


TEMPLE-RASTON: So that's what the court piped into any of the viewing rooms whenever there's a concern that classified information is being revealed. Because the sound is on a 40-second delay, censors have time to block out classified information with that static.


TEMPLE-RASTON: What's odd thing is that the CIA has admitted to waterboarding KSM and another of the 9/11 defendants, Ramzi bin al-Shibh. And yet under the rules of the military commission, talking to detainees about what happened during their confinement is something called contraband information.

DAVID NEVIN: Can't talk about it, can't discuss it, and it's not going to happen.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's David Nevin, KSM's lawyer. But he says the issue of torture won't go away, just because its discussion is classified.

NEVIN: We know this about human behavior. We know that it's impossible to torture someone and then at some point up the road, at some later place to say: Well, we're through with that, we're not going torture you anymore, and so everything from here on is clean.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And that's the cornerstone of the defense's case. They're looking for mitigating circumstances that would prevent a jury from putting their clients to death. And they say that the torture the defendants suffered is reason enough.

The chief prosecutor at the military commissions says no one should fall for that argument.

BRIG. GEN. MARK MARTINS: The remedy for torture or cruel treatment - things that will make you ashamed that they were done, that are deplorable and disappointing, the remedy is not to just dismiss all charges. It's harder than that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor of the commissions, who is also lead counsel in the 9/11 case.

MARTINS: But it doesn't pass the common sense test that everything, everything is polluted and tainted by an instance of torture? That means everybody goes free? Everybody is free of accountability because someone else, who may have been acting independently or out of control, did something wrong? That's not justice. It's harder than that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It may be harder than that, but the defendants went to great lengths to make their point. Walid bin Attash was rolled into the courtroom in a restraint chair. His arms were actually tied to the chair. The judge asked him if he would behave if he was untied. Bin Attash refused to acknowledge the question. He was eventually untied.

Defense attorneys say the men were acting out because they were objecting to the way they've been treated while in custody. Their passive defiance turned a routine hearing into a 13-hour ordeal, which ended with their saying they would wait to enter their pleas. The case is expected to reconvene to discuss motions in June.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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