U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- The arraignment of accused terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four confederates entered its afternoon session Saturday, with the defendants still sitting quietly in chairs next to their attorneys, showing no interest in the military tribunal that will decide their fates for the Sept. 11 attacks 10 years ago in New York and Washington.
Without their cooperation in entering pleas of guilt or innocence, or even saying whether they accept the defense attorneys assigned to help them, the military judge in the trial, Army Col. James Pohl began certifying the lawyers anyway, and then took questions from them challenging whether he was fit to hear the case that opened this morning.
With Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden now dead, it becomes the first and only trial to arise out of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
David Nevin, the civilian attorney for Mohammed, quizzed the judge at length over what he has read about Sept. 11, 2001, and whether he has discussed the attacks with other military officials or congressional figures in Washington.
Pohl said he has read very little, and categorically denied that he has spoken with others about Sept. 11. Asked about any affiliations he holds, he said, “just the United States Army.” He refused to reveal his religion, and said other military judges who have done so “were wrong to have done it.” He refused to disclose his political affiliation.
He said his wife’s sister was in the greater New York area when the planes hit the two towers, but she was not injured. He said he knew no one hurt when the third plane crashed into the Pentagon.
“The army’s a big place,” he said. “But I don’t believe so.”
He did acknowledge that he presided over cases of military service members charged with assaulting detainees in Iraq in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.
Asked about the five Sept. 11 defendants now before him, he said he had no opinion on the guilt or innocence of Mohammed and the others. Then he was asked the central question of whether he was the right man to preside over this historic case.
Clearly irritated, Pohl answered: “I apply the law the way the law should be and as it is, regardless of personal feelings. That’s the best answer I can give, and that’s the only answer I’m going to give you.”