Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (CNN) — The arraignment of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others is under way Saturday.
It is Mohammed’s first appearance before a military judge since he was charged a month ago.
It could be a routine military commission hearing, with charges being read and pleas being entered, or it could be the latest act of a legal and political free-for-all.
Along with Mohammed, the others are Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi.
Among the first issue to arise involved the clothes that the defense lawyers brought for their clients and that were forbidden by military officials. The lawyers want their clients to wear vests and turbans.
he five are charged with terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury and destruction of property in violation of the law of war.
The charges allege that the five are “responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., resulting in the killing of 2,976 people,” the Defense Department said.
If convicted, the five face the death penalty.
“I’ve had conversations with other people who believe the circus is going to begin with the first appearance,” said Rear Adm. Donald Guter, who once served as the Navy’s top lawyer.
“One of the most important things that’s going to happen at arraignment is the scheduling of the trial and the scheduling of the motions hearings, and I’m sure there will be many,” according to Neal Puckett, a lawyer and retired Marine colonel who has spent most of his career in military courtrooms.
Technically, once the five are arraigned, the court has met the constitutional requirement for a speedy trial.
“The reality of course is that no one at Gitmo is getting a speedy trial. The rules are written as such to run the clock from the time that the charges are actually preferred or sworn, and of course that process has sort of started and stopped and started and stopped several times,” Puckett said.
The military initially charged Mohammed in 2008, but President Barack Obama stopped the case as part of his effort to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Unable to close the center, Obama attempted to move the case to federal court in New York in 2009, only to run into a political firestorm. The plan was dropped after complaints about cost and security.
Last April, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the five would face a military trial at Guantanamo Bay.
The decision was met with some criticism, including from the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said last month the administration is making a “terrible mistake by prosecuting the most important terrorism trials of our time in a second-tier system of justice.”
“Whatever verdict comes out of the Guantanamo military commissions will be tainted by an unfair process and the politics that wrongly pulled these cases from federal courts, which have safely and successfully handled hundreds of terrorism trials,” Romero said.