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9/11 defendants in court at Guantanamo

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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, appear before military judgeFive men accused of planning the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US have appeared before a military judge at the Guantanamo Bay to face charges that could lead to their execution.

The defendants, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is accused of masterminding the attacks, were being arraigned on Saturday under heavy security at the US base in Cuba.

The five face charges that include terrorism and 2,976 counts of murder each for their alleged roles planning and aiding the attacks by hijackers aboard four airliners which destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the US defence department headquarters at the Pentagon, near Washington DC.

The five men could face the death penalty if convicted.

Saturday's hearing is the first time the five have been in court in nearly three-and-a-half years. US President Barack Obama put their previous tribunal on hold in a failed effort to move the case to civilian court.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has mocked the tribunal and said in previous court appearances that he welcomed execution.

As the arraignment got under way, defendants removed their earphones and refused to listen to a translation of the judge's questions.

Mohammed declined to answer the judge's questions about whether he was satisfied with his US military and civilian lawyers.

Forced confessions

Steven Kay, an international criminal lawyer in London, said Mohammed had been "waterboarded" by US interrogators for over 180 times and that confessions extracted through torture would be disregarded.

"Statements obtained by coercion cannot be used as evidence, however the laws do not say that evidence obtained by coercion is inadmissible," he said.

"The circumstances under which they made such admissions, how reliable were they? Mohammed had been waterboarded [simulated drowning] 183 times as disclosed within the US military intelligence records.

"I'm afraid this whole business since George Bush [Obama's predecessor] introduced the military trials has gone out of control.

"If the Americans had gone down the proper and orthodox path when dealing with these suspected terrorists, and provided a justice system that was coherent, rational and based upon sound principles, they would not be in the mess that they are in now." 

The trial is being broadcast on closed-circuit TV after James Pohl, the lead military judge, ruled that remote viewing locations were necessary because of the significant public interest in the trials.

Pohl's order sets aside five viewing sites for families of September 11 victims, survivors and emergency personnel who responded to the attack.

Those will be at Fort Meade, Fort Hamilton and another site in New York City, Joint Base McGuire Dix in Lakehurst, New Jersey and Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

Dozens of journalists as well as relatives of September 11 victims were expected to attend the hearing.

Closed-circuit broadcast opposed

Lawyers for some defendants opposed the closed-circuit broadcast on the grounds that the proceedings should be open to anyone to see, not just broadcast by closed-circuit TV at certain locations.

"We want it more transparent and more open," said Cheryl Bormann, a lawyer for defendant Waleed bin Attash. "We believe that the world needs to see what's happening."

This is the second time that the US has attempted to prosecute the five prisoners at Guantanamo.

Obama's administration withdrew the charges and sought to move the case to a civilian court in the US as part of an effort to close the prison on the base in Cuba.

But the administration was forced to reverse course because of opposition in Congress and by New York City officials who said the case posed too great of a security threat.


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