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9/11 'mastermind' back before Guantanamo judge

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- The self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and four alleged co-conspirators will appear in public for the first time in more than three years, when U.S. officials start a second attempt at what is likely to be a drawn out legal battle that could lead to the men's executions.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants are to be arraigned at a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay Saturday on charges that include 2,976 counts of murder, one for each person killed in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

In the past, during the failed first effort to prosecute them at the U.S. base in Cuba, Mohammed has mocked the tribunal and said he and his co-defendants would plead guilty and welcome execution. But there were signs that at least some of the defense teams were preparing for lengthy fight, planning challenges of the military tribunals and the secrecy that shrouds the case.

The arraignment is “only the beginning of a trial that will take years to complete, followed by years of appellate review,” attorney James Connell, who represents defendant Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, told reporters gathered at the base to observe the hearing.

“I can't imagine any scenario where this thing gets wrapped up in six months,” Connell said.

Defendants in what is known as a military commission typically do not enter a plea during their arraignment. Instead, the judge reads the charges, makes sure the defendants understand their rights and then moves on to procedural issues. Lawyers for the men said they were prohibited by secrecy rules from disclosing the intentions of their clients.

Jim Harrington, a civilian attorney for Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni prisoner who has said at one hearing that he was proud of the Sept. 11 attacks, said he did not think that any of the defendants would plead guilty, notwithstanding their earlier statements.

Army Capt. Jason Wright, one of Mohammed's Pentagon-appointed lawyers, declined to comment on the case.

As in previous hearings, a handful of people who lost family members in the attacks were selected by lottery to travel to the base to watch the proceedings. Several said they were grateful for the chance to see a case they believe has been delayed too long.

The arraignment for the five comes more than three years after U.S. President Barack Obama's failed effort to try the suspects in a federal civilian court and close the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.

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In this Oct. 9, 2007 file photo, U.S. military personnel inspect each occupied cell on a two-minute cycle at Camp 5 maximum-security facility on Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. (AP)

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