Guantanamo 9/11 Suspect Hearings Face Rough Start

January 30,2013

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — More than 12 years after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, there is still no trial date set for the alleged mastermind and four other defendants. The pretrial motions hearing under way at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is showing how difficult and complex the case is.

The case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators remains tangled in legal motions that are taking months to resolve - before conditions can be set for a trial to take place.

This week's sessions have focused on torture and the conditions in which the accused have been held since their arrests.

“In the American system, a trial is intended as a search for truth," explains James Connell, an attorney defending one of the suspects. "This motions hearing will begin to take a first step toward finding the truth about what happened in the torture of these men.

Lawyer requests

At issue in this set of hearings were requests by defense attorneys to spend 48 hours at the detention facility where the prisoners are held. Questions about who has the power to censor the proceedings arose Monday when someone cut the audio feed for three minutes without the judge's approval.

On Tuesday, the five suspects chose not to attend. That followed an outburst Monday when one of the suspects said he did not trust his attorneys and saw no point in coming to court.

Victims' relatives present

Memories of the carnage on that day in 2001 were recalled as relatives of victims got to see the five accused. Among those in the courtroom gallery was Phyllis Rodriguez, whose son Greg died in the New York attacks.

She came here to see the proceedings up close, but believes the case belongs in an experienced civilian federal court on U.S. soil.

“I feel it would have been much more open in federal court," she said. "The public would have had much more access. Media would have had much more access. You know, this is a trip to get here, and it's high security, so it's very involved.

President Obama tried to close the Guantanamo detention facility and transfer the prisoners to the U.S. for trial, but a law was later passed forbidding it.

A special military court set up seven years ago is working through the steps to ensure the trial is fair and transparent.

More delays

For those eager to see justice in the case, it means more waiting.

"There may not be a trial in my lifetime. It may take years and years. But I'm not impatient because I do not expect closure from the resolution of this trial," said Phyllis Rodriguez. "It's not going to change my life. It's not going to bring my son back no matter what the verdict is. So I'm not impatient. What I believe, I believe it should be done right.”

Doing things right in this trial will take many more days of tedious and complicated proceedings.