Judge turns down bid to halt Sept 11 hearing at Guantanamo

January 29, 2019 GMT

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) — Outbursts from prisoners marked the resumption of pretrial hearings Monday for the Sept. 11 terrorism case in the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Amid calls from prisoners questioning judge Marine Col. Keith Parrella’s qualifications and accusing him of making threats, Parrella ruled the weeklong hearing should continue over objections raised by defense lawyers about alleged government investigations.


The Sept. 11 hearings at Guantanamo have dragged on for years without a trial date set. The defense and prosecution are wrangling over what evidence can be heard during the trial. Proceedings have been delayed by legal challenges, many related to the fact that the men were held in a clandestine network of CIA prisons and subjected to treatment that their lawyers say amounted to torture.

“As I told you last time, I cannot answer your questions because you are not a qualified judge for this case, thanks,” Ramzi bin al-Shibh told Parrella as the judge opened proceedings with preliminary questions to the accused, asking the men if they understood their rights.

Parrella took over as the judge on the Sept. 11 case in October after Army Col. James Pohl, the judge since the Obama administration, retired. While Parrella ignored a similar comment from al-Shibh at a hearing in November, on Monday he warned that if al-Shibh did not recognize the court, he would have to “take measures to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, stands trial alongside four other men including al-Shibh. The men could receive the death penalty if convicted, but any sentence would likely bring years more of appeals.

Also Monday, the defense detailed concerns of a possible government investigation into the Sept. 11 defense teams, including the FBI questioning of the paralegal who previously works for a defense team. Authorities have not revealed why the paralegal was questioned in Texas last month. Defense lawyers feared it may have violated attorney-client confidentiality.

Parrella said Monday that no defense team members are under investigation.

James Harrington, a civilian lawyer appointed to represent al-Shibh, said the alleged investigations have had a “devastating” impact on his team. He and other lawyers have repeatedly pointed to what they see as a government effort to monitor and undermine the defense, including the FBI investigation and the discovery of listening devices disguised as smoke detectors in their meeting rooms, which the government denied using to eavesdrop on their conversations.


“To an outsider this might almost sound paranoid,” Harrington said, but “we have reasons to distrust law enforcement agencies involved in this case, and they are real.”

The defense requested that Parrella pause the hearings until more evidence surrounding the alleged government investigations could be made public.

After more than two hours of arguments from the defense and a long recess, Parrella ruled Monday that the pretrial hearings would move forward as planned.

As Parrella returned to address al-Shibh’s protest that sidetracked the hearing earlier, another of the accused men railed against the judge.

Parrella asked al-Shibh’s lawyer to affirm his client recognizes his obligation to the court. “It is not this commission’s intent to force a confrontation,” Parrella said, but warned if al-Shibh makes the same statements again, “this issue may come up again.”

“It is clear that the judge wants to escalate the issue,” another of the accused, Walid bin Attash interrupted in Arabic. “You threaten us,” Attash added in English.

Parrella ordered Attash not to comment further on the issue. “It does not concern you,” he said.

Attash replied, “OK,” and court was adjourned.