Sept. 11 hearing: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wants death-penalty attorney


Ft. Meade, Md.— Pre-trial hearings in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged Sept. 11 conspirators opened Monday morning with one of the defendants arguing he needed an extra attorney who specializes in capital punishment to help him avoid the death penalty.

In the first session since the five men were arraigned in May at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. military attorney for Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi asked for an additional lawyer who is experienced representing defendants in capital punishment cases. But Judge James L. Pohl, an Army colonel and Pepperdine University law graduate, said that the alleged Al Qaeda financier must himself ask the court for the assistance.

He did so through an interpreter, answering a series of questions by the judge, and said he wanted David A. Ruhnke, a New Jersey attorney who specializes in death penaltycases, to assist in the complicated legal case.


“At one time the entire FBI resources were committed to investigating this case,” Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, Hawsawi’s military attorney, told the judge, saying that additional legal help was crucial. “What this case needs is someone with capital murder experience.”

But prosecutor Robert Swann, a retired Army colonel, argued that Hawsawi should not be given the additional help because the defendant already has another five lawyers supporting him on various aspects of the case. Swann said there also is a pool of 60 defense lawyers available to help Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Pohl took the matter under advisement.

This was the first of 25 pre-trial motions docketed for argument and rulings this week in what will be the first and only trial to arise out of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The defendants are named in 87 charges including conspiracy, murder, aircraft hijacking and terrorism. Some 3,000 people died in the attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. A trial is tentatively set for next May.

Mohammed is the accused mastermind of the attacks, serving just under then-Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The other defendants are Ramzi Binalshib, the alleged plot cell manager; Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward; and Ammar al Baluchi, a.k.a. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, an alleged Al Qaeda financier.

Together the so-called “GTMO 5” have variously declared their innocence, refused to acknowledge the authority of the military commission process, and staged protests inside the courtroom.

The proceedings are being telecast via a secure video link to Ft. Meade.

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