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September 22, 2017

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Delayed 9/11 case begins at Guantanamo

US NAVAL BASE AT GUANTANAMO BAY Cuba--Long-delayed efforts to try self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four al-Qaida co-defendants finally got under way Monday with a pre-trial hearing at Guantanamo.

Eleven years after the attacks and nine-and-a-half years after his capture in Pakistan, KSM sat on a court bench wearing a white turban, his beard dyed with henna, as victims' family members looked on from behind a glass screen.

KSM is accused of orchestrating the hijacked airliner plot that left 2,976 people dead, while his alleged al-Qaida accomplices are charged with providing funding and other support for those who crashed the planes.

All five defendants face the death penalty if convicted, but their trial by military tribunal at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba is not expected to start for at least another year.

"I don't think there's any justice in this court," the 47-year-old Sheikh Mohammed said in Arabic when asked by Judge James Pohl if he understood his rights.

During the five-day pre-trial hearing, the defense is seeking to prevent President Barack Obama's administration from arguing that the treatment and alleged torture of the defendants during interrogations in secret CIA prisons before being sent to Guantanamo in 2006 is classified for national security.

Media organizations and rights groups are demanding that the judge guarantee the transparency of proceedings amid fears that some sessions will be conducted in secret.

"The public has the right to see the proceedings," said James Connell, representing KSM's Pakistani nephew, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, who is believed to have helped with logistics and funding for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union and media groups petitioning the court are also protesting a 40-second audio delay for journalists and others following the proceedings from behind the soundproof glass.

They say the delay, which allows a military censor to blur statements whose content is deemed a threat to national security, violates speech and press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Initially set for June, the pre-trial hearing has been delayed on several occasions for reasons including Ramadan, scheduling conflicts, a train derailment that sparked an Internet outage at the base and a tropical storm.

Pohl turned down a request for a further delay due to rat excrement and mold being discovered in the offices of defense lawyers.

Wearing a hijab out of respect for her Yemeni client Walid bin Attash, defense attorney Cheryl Bormann brought up the issue again Monday, saying the condition of the workspace "makes the staff sick."

Pohl did rule that effective Tuesday, the defendants can leave the courtroom during the hearings or opt not to attend at all.

Michael Schwartz, the military defense attorney for Bin Attash, tried to argue that a discussion of torture was necessary to decide that issue, saying hauling them into court would subject them to emotional strain.

But Pohl shut down his line of reasoning as "irrelevant."

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