Gitmo pre-trial hearings still going on
It will be 4 years ago in August that I went to Gitmo to observe first hand the various legal machinations that went into pre-trial hearings for the big 5 Al Qaeda defendants at Gitmo. I was excited as a lawyer and as a journalist, and really expected to see a part of history.
Well, it was less glamorous than I expected. On Day 2, one of the Defendants had stomach issues, and while I don't want to go too far into it, he suffered to such an extent that it apparently wasn't feasible for him to sit through the hearings. What followed was a day and a half discussion as to whether diarrhea constituted a voluntary or involuntary absence from the court room. If voluntary, the case could continue, if involuntary, it could not. Various ways of managing the situation, including having him in another room with closed circuit TV, or wearing adult undergarments were discussed.
Frankly, I was bemused. Here I was hoping to witness history, and instead, in an actual legal setting we were discussing a defendants gastro-intestinal issues, and trying to come up with legal precedent about it. I honestly never even heard how this was resolved.
Again, almost four years later and we're virtually no closer to actually getting the trial started, as an NPR segment makes clear:
Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald was there when I was there, and every day before and after, and she has two pieces that discuss some of the issues. The first here discusses the potential start date of the trial:
The chief war crimes prosecutor is proposing to start jury selection in the Sept. 11 trial in March 2018, a date that defense lawyers said Tuesday was too soon.
“I think they are hopelessly optimistic in putting out that date,” said Jay Connell, defense attorney for defendant Ammar al Baluchi, the nephew of the alleged 9/11 plot mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. He and other defense attorneys said Tuesday that the prosecution and judge have not given them the bulk of the national security information they need to prepare for trial.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told reporters Monday night that he has filed the proposed timetable with the court to start picking the U.S. military officers as jurors in the tribunal of Mohammed and four alleged conspirators. Once chosen, he said, he expects prosecutors to present their case in six to eight weeks.
News of the proposed timetable also comes days after the trial judge Army Col. James L. Pohl wrote a blistering decision about lack of logistical preparation at Guantánamo for a trial involving what Obama administration officials called “the crime of the century.” It was still under seal at the war court, but the Herald obtained a few portions.
At issue in that instance was an as-yet unexplained decision at this remote Navy base in Cuba to cancel all 2017 reservations for temporary base housing for visiting war court staff, including at the officers’ quarters where the judge and his staff have been housed for years.
Some war court visitors, including generals Martins and Baker, stay in a trailer park at Camp Justice that is not controlled by the base. But some officers and civilians expected to argue in court have traditionally been able to book into hotel-style base housing.
The 9/11 trial judge decided Sunday to go forward with the case’s first pretrial hearing of the year at Guantánamo despite the absence of a death-penalty defense attorney who called in sick due to a medical emergency.
Chicago attorney Cheryl Bormann, the so-called learned counsel for alleged Sept. 11 plot deputy Walid bin Attash, broke her arm in two places in a fall in Washington, D.C., over the weekend and returned home to consult a surgeon about reconstructive surgery, said co-counsel Michael Schwartz.
At issue is whether the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, can hold a hearing at the remote base in Cuba with one of the death-penalty defenders missing. Each of the five men accused of the plot that killed nearly 3,000 people has a criminal defense lawyer with expertise in capital defense, a learned counsel, and Pohl has in the past postponed court when one was too ill to attend.
I'm not even going to pretend I can cover all the issues involved here. No one could. They are still arguing about what evidence can be used, where people are being housed, how lawyers can get there etc. And best case scenario has the actual trial still years away.
I don't know what the answer is, but apparently neither does anyone else.