Five Guantánamo detainees accused of involvement in the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA are due to appear in front of a military judge this week. Pre-trial hearings in the case resumed on Wednesday. Amnesty International has an observer at the proceedings.
The defendants are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, ‘Ali ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Ali (‘Ammar al Baluchi) and Mustafa al Hawsawi. The US government intends to try the men in a joint trial and to seek the death penalty against them.
Before being transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006, these five men had been held in secret incommunicado detention by the CIA for between two and three years. They were arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003. Their fate and whereabouts concealed, they became victims of enforced disappearance, which is, like torture, a crime under international law.
At least one of the defendants, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to the form of water torture known as “waterboarding”, simulated drowning. The US authorities have not revealed which other “standard” or “enhanced” interrogation techniques were used against these and other CIA detainees. Any techniques used against the men, their conditions of detention and the location of CIA detention facilities remain classified at the highest level of secrecy.
The military judge overseeing the case, Marine Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, will hold separate hearings over the next two days with each of the men. One of the main issues to be examined is the question of legal representation and, specifically, whether the decisions taken by the men at the arraignment on 5 June 2008 to represent themselves were made voluntarily.
Another issue is the question of a joint trial versus separate trials. Colonel Kohlmann wrote that he “intends to discuss” the question of separating trials “in the event it appears that an accused or the Government is prejudiced by a joint or common trial”.
Amnesty International continues to urge the US government to abandon the military commission trials, and to bring any defendants before the ordinary federal courts, without resort to the death penalty.