9/11 defendants refuse to participate in arraignment

Victim family members watch from Fort Meade

May 05, 2012|By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

Before self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was brought into court Saturday, Carole Reuben of Potomac said his arraignment would mark "the beginning of the end of the process."

Her son, Todd Hayes Reuben, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that was hijacked by five al-Qaida operatives and flown into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The Potomac man was 40.

But any hope that the arraignments of Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators might bring some healing to family members, a decade after they lost loved ones in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was stymied Saturday by a halting proceeding in which the defendants refused to participate.

The courtroom wrangling at Guantanamo Bay was broadcast to Fort Meade and several other military bases in the United States, so victims' relatives, the public and the media could watch. At Fort Meade, 10 family members were escorted to a theater to watch the secure, closed-circuit television feed.

The Army base in Anne Arundel County was the viewing site closest to the Pentagon, where 125 people died on Sept. 11. Members of the public watched from the Post Theater; victims' relatives sat in a section surrounded by temporary walls for privacy. News reporters viewed the feed from a separate location.

What they saw was a contentious session that lasted nearly 10 hours and ended without pleas. Defense attorneys said they had not been allowed to meet with their clients in private, away from government monitors, and defendants declined to acknowledge the questions of Col. James L. Pohl, the military judge.

At one point, defendant Ramzi Binal Shibh rose from his chair, bent down and prostrated himself on the floor, apparently in prayer.

Later, he interrupted the proceeding to allege that he had been threatened at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp where he and the others are being held. "Maybe you are not going to see me any more," he told Pohl. "They are going to kill us and say that we have committed suicide."

The defendants — Mohammed, Binal Shibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi — face charges including terrorism and murder in the deaths of 2,976 on Sept. 11. If convicted, each could be sentenced to death.

The five declined to enter pleas Saturday.

The proceeding was, in fact, their second arraignment. They were presented before a military commission in 2008, but their case was halted the following year when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that they would be tried instead in federal court in New York.

New Yorkers objected, Congress passed legislation forbidding the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, and the case returned to an updated military commission system.

Events of the last year have served to keep reminding family members of their loss. There was the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan a year ago, followed by the 10th anniversary of the attacks in September, and now the arraignments.

"It doesn't end," Reuben said. "It's just an ongoing thing."

Reuben, her husband and daughter have entered their names in a lottery to travel to Guantanamo Bay for the trial. Reuben said she wants to know as much as possible about what happened that day.

"I doubt whether there's too much that we don't already know, but I'd be interested in seeing what the prosecution and the defense have to say," she said.

But she and others ignored Satuday's viewing opportunity.

Alan Linton of Frederick lost his son, Alan Jr., an investment banker, at the World Trade Center. He said he and his wife put their names in the lottery for the Cuba trip but weren't interested in watching a video feed of the arraignment.

"That's just not the same as being there to me," Linton said. "Going to Fort Meade, it's kind of like watching television."

The five defendants, who are held in a prison so secret that its location on Guantanamo Bay is classified, were taken early Saturday to the courtroom to be formally charged and to enter their pleas.

An 88-page charge sheet details alleged planning for the "planes operation," from 1996 discussions between Mohammed and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden about flying planes into buildings through recruiting hijackers and sending them out on "casing missions" — carrying razors through airport security and taking flights to count the number of passengers seated in first class, business and economy.

Mohammed's co-defendants are accused of supporting roles in the attacks.

Binal Shibh allegedly researched flight schools for the hijackers. Bin Attash is accused of running an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and researching flight simulators and timetables.

Al-Hawsawi allegedly helped the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler's checks and credit cards. Abd al-Aziz Ali, a nephew of Mohammed, is accused of giving money to the hijackers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.