WASHINGTON - They make an unlikely pair, the world's most notorious captured terrorist and the Navy captain assigned to defend him against war crimes charges that could lead to his execution. But together, the two men quietly are embarking on a legal odyssey that could last years, and ultimately might help define the constitutional parameters of the United States' role in the global war on terrorism.
On three occasions over the past few weeks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described orchestrator of the Sept. 11 attacks, has sat with his legs shackled to a chair in a briefing room at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mohammed probably has spent most of the past five years in similar leg irons, fielding questions from American officials.
But now, for the first time, the man who has been sitting across from him is a potential ally, Navy reserve judge advocate general Prescott L. Prince.
Prince recently was tapped to be Mohammed's lead defense lawyer for the military commission proceedings in which he is charged with murder in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In 10 hours of interviews, the two men have sized each other up, talking about themselves, the U.S. justice system and the imminent arraignment of Mohammed and four alleged lesser co-conspirators, set for June 5.
Prince is prohibited from disclosing details of what Mohammed told him in their talks, but his description of their encounters offers a rare glimpse of a man whose persona has taken on monstrous proportions since an interview in 2002 in which he boasted about how he masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks.
Josh Meyer writes for the Los Angeles Times.