FT. MEADE, Md. — Alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and two other defendants chose to skip the proceedings Tuesday morning when pre-trial hearings for the accused conspirators in the Sept. 11 terror attacks resumed at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The hearings are dealing with crucial issues before the five defendants can be tried, including allegations of inhumane treatment, classified information and whether the U.S. Constitution governs the military commissions process.
Other matters are less significant, such as Mohammed's desire to wear camouflage attire at the hearings to highlight his jihad experience, which Judge James L. Pohl approved Tuesday morning as long as his garb does not resemble U.S. military clothing or cause any prison security problem.
On Monday, the judge turned down a request from government prosecutors to compel the defendants to attend each hearing and the trial, which is tentatively scheduled to start next May. The judge approved a three-page waiver that the defendants can sign each morning if they do not want to participate.
A Navy commander who helps oversee guard operations at the prison testified that two alleged Al Qaeda financiers, Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi and Ammar al Baluchi, a.k.a. Ali Abdul Azis Ali, signed the waivers Tuesday morning and remained in their prison camp cells.
She said Mohammed at first said he wanted to attend.
"I knelt down and spoke face to face with him through a slot in the door," the commander testified. He declined to sign the waiver, she said, and he was moved to a holding cell near the courtroom. Then shortly before the 9 a.m. start of the hearing, Mohammed changed his mind and signed the waiver to skip the hearing.
The chief prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, said the waiver allowed Mohammed to monitor the proceedings through a video link in a secure location, while spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the other two "have chosen to not participate in any way."
Pohl said of the three detainees: "Tomorrow they can choose to come or not to come."
The other defendants are Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged manager of the cell that carried out the attacks, and Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward.
The hearings are being telecast via a secure video link to Ft. Meade.