GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) – The proclaimed architect of the Sept. 11 attacks once declared that he wanted to be executed and become a martyr. But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is mounting a vigorous defense, even asking the military judge to remove himself Wednesday.
Acting as his own attorney, Mohammed’s readiness to raise pretrial challenges on behalf of himself and his four co-defendants ensures the case will not be over quickly. It now has little chance of going to trial before the end of the Bush administration.
Charles “Cully” Stimson, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said Mohammed aims to use the military tribunal to rally al-Qaida supporters.
“KSM will mess with the system to the extent he can, and he will use the trial as a platform to speak to those who look up to him as a hero,” Stimson told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
Mohammed on Wednesday asked Judge Ralph Kohlmann, a Marine colonel, to recuse himself, arguing that Kohlmann sees the defendants as “Islamic extremists.”
“I don’t believe you respect Muslims and therefore won’t provide me a just ruling,” said Mohammed, who wore a black turban above a long gray beard streaked with white, using halting English.
The judge dismissed Mohammed’s challenges as “completely wrong” and refused to step down.
At Mohammed’s arraignment in June—his first public appearance since he was captured in Pakistan in 2003—Kohlmann warned him that he faces the death penalty for his confessed role as mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,973 people. Mohammed said he would welcome becoming a martyr.
The defendants, who all face the death penalty if convicted, have not yet entered a plea.
But in court, Mohammed and his four co-defendants pressed requests for computer equipment, translated court transcripts and telephone access. All five are held with other “high-value” detainees in a secret location on this U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.
“This is going to be a long, long, long battle before these accused get sentenced,” said Army Maj. Jon Jackson, an attorney for defendant Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi. His client allegedly provided the Sept. 11 hijackers with money and Western-style clothing.
On Wednesday, the judge allowed the defendants to take advantage of their reunion in the courtroom and discuss strategy among themselves for half an hour. The judge ordered prosecutors to leave the room and told the military guards that details of their conversation are not to be revealed.
Complaining of botched Arabic translations in the courtroom, the detainees also asked for the proceedings to be suspended until more competent interpreters are appointed. Mohammed filed a handwritten note in support of the motion, saying he has to resort to using “broken English.”
Kohlmann did not immediately rule on the defendants’ requests, but lead prosecutor Robert Swann said the government is preparing to issue each defendant a laptop computer loaded with 40,782 pages of documents and more than 50 videos.
Swann said they could not safely be provided with requested printers or other equipment with electrical cords, presumably because of the danger of suicide.
Four prisoners at Guantanamo have killed themselves since the January 2002 opening of the military offshore prison, which currently holds 255 men suspected of links to the Taliban or al-Qaida.