On May 5, 2012, the five terrorists accused of plotting and executing the attacks of 9/11 were arraigned at Guantanamo Bay. Judicial Watch’s Senior Investigator Lisette Garcia was on the ground to observe the proceedings.
Of course, everyone knows the name of 9/11 ringleader Khalid Shaikh Mohammad (KSM). Here are the names of KSM's followers and co-conspirators according to the Defense Department: Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin 'Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. The identities of these terrorists have been difficult to pin down as they reportedly have used many aliases throughout their "careers" and during their detainment.
According to Lisette (and numerous press reports), the marathon 13-hour arraignment was a bizarre scene, to say the least. How bizarre? Throughout the proceeding, the terrorist suspects engaged in a wide variety of disruptive behaviors, including:
- Refusing to wear any of the various listening devices provided to each of the accused for the purpose of simultaneously interpreting into Arabic everything said in open court;
- Refusing to answer the judge's direct questions as to whether the listening devices were actually working, whether the attorneys provided by the U.S. government at no charge on the defendants' behalf were acceptable to them, and whether they understood the nature of the charges being brought against them;
- Smiling, giggling, gesturing, talking, passing notes and even sharing a magazine among the five accused. Additionally, alleged mastermind KSM - who sat at the front table on the defense's side of the courtroom - used a bold marker to make signs which he hung from a computer screen and microphone at his station in view of his alleged followers sitting directly behind him. The linguists complained that touching the microphone caused static which impaired their ability to hear and interpret the proceedings. They also complained that side conversations further impaired their ability to hear and interpret the proceedings.
- Abruptly rising to engage in a repetitive stand, bend, kneel pattern of prayer at times not related to any recognized worship obligations.
Fox News Channel's Catherine Herridge, who also observed the arraignment, reported that "It was clear right out of the gate that the 9/11 suspects came in with a strategy to frustrate and delay the process." In other words, they were making a statement.
And, at the end of the hearing it got personal. Lisette explains:
The strangest incident may have been a defendant's parting greeting toward a transparent divider at the rear of the courtroom. Beyond the transparent divider sat a handful of the 9/11 victims' surviving family members who had been invited to observe the proceedings in person.
Eddie Bracken, whose sister was killed in the World Trade Center prong of the attack, said at a press conference held the following morning that Binalshibh mocked his sister's death by smiling and giving Bracken a thumbs-up sign the night before. Although a thumbs-up gesture generally means approval or agreement in the United States, in the Middle East the sign is considered a crass insult. (You can watch video transcripts of the press conferences here.)
Mr. Bracken responded to the terrorists' absurd behavior: "They turn around and they converse with each other - that's good; my sister and those people that were lost, they can't converse with anybody," he said, according to the New York Times: "It brought up all the old memories and that whole day and up to today. And listening to all their rhetoric and how they perceive themselves and how the lawyers are perceiving them, it's hurtful because they have no remorse."
More than 10 years after Mr. Bracken's sister was murdered, KSM and his co-conspirators face the following charges: terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, and destroying property in violation of the law of war.
Now, as crazy as this military hearing was as it unfolded, it is a near miracle it unfolded at all given how badly the Obama administration botched the decision to seek justice against KSM.
You remember how this went, right?
First, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the 9/11 terrorists would be tried in a New York civilian court, leading to a massive public backlash and a near revolt in Congress. Then, in January 2010 came press reports indicating the Obama administration had abandoned this ridiculous idea given the "wave of protests" from citizens of New York. A month later, the Washington Post was reporting that President Obama had frozen Holder out of the process and would indeed find an appropriate place for a civilian trial (as if there is such a thing).
On the day he announced his re-election campaign (wink, wink) the president reversed course and decided a military tribunal was a good idea after all.
In fact, Paul Orfanedes, JW's Director of Litigation, made our first trip to the facility back in 2008 to observe the initial arraignment of these terrorists - a legal process that later resulted in the suspects wanting to plead guilty. Yet, Obama's legal team shut that process down until, as I described above, they were forced to reopen it again. But please remember, as you see these terrorists try to make a mockery of our military commission system, that this all could have been over and done with long ago if not for the bungling and ideological decisions of the Obama administration.
So here we are.
Of course, if Obama has his way, ultimately Gitmo will be shut down and additional terrorist detainees released, which would lead to disastrous results. The president claims he will make good on his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay, even though there are deep divisions within his own administration as to the wisdom of such a move.
But, for now, Gitmo remains open for business and the 9/11 terrorists face a jury trial before a panel of military officers who will decide their fate -- as it should be.
It is an honor and a privilege for Judicial Watch to be among the select few to observe these proceedings. We've made six trips to Gitmo to observe terrorist detainee proceedings there. And we will be there in the future in order to bear witness on behalf of citizens who want justice for the 9/11 atrocities.
To see additional material on our Gitmo activity, click here.