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Hearing Topic For Accused Sept. 11 Mastermind Shifts To Defendants' Rights


Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, face some pretrial motions. The five men are accused of planning or supporting the 9/11 attacks. They now face a military judge - part of a commission - conducting these pretrial proceedings. Although, maybe we should call them pre-pre-pre-pre-pretrial proceedings because we're told am actual trial is years away. NPR's Arun Rath is at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. He's been covering these proceedings. Arun, what exactly is on the table here, and what's its relevance?

ARUN RATH, BYLINE: Well, what's most interesting this week, Steve, we've heard about the abuse of these men at the hands of the CIA. Now, we're hearing about allegations that they're being abused still right now in Guantanamo. One of the defendants, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, has been complaining that he's being subjected to vibrations and sounds in his cell in a way that's reminiscent of the sound that the CIA used during the interrogation to kind of break these guys. Now, they're going to be calling as a witness in this one of the highest-value detainees in the entire prison, Abu Zubaydah. He has not been seen since 2002. He was supposedly part of Osama bin Laden's inner circle - considered very dangerous. He was also tortured by the CIA, so we'll get to hear from him this week about some of the conditions in Camp 7, which should be fascinating.

INSKEEP: So they're essentially challenging their pretrial detention - the way they're being held. Is that right?

RATH: Right. And, well, it also extends to the way that they were abused before this. The reason why so much of the trial is digging into the treatment of these men, it's actually looking ahead to the sentencing phase after the trial so that they can use these as mitigating factors for when they could be sentenced.

INSKEEP: So what is the government saying about how these men are being treated?

RATH: Well, the folks at JTF GTMO say that they are treating the prisoners humanely.

INSKEEP: So remind us who is on trial. You've mentioned a couple of them already.

RATH: Yeah, well, at the top of the list, clearly, is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He has gone on the record claiming responsibility for planning the 9/11 attacks from A to Z. He says, you know, all the details from using box cutters as weapons, flying planes into building - he was the details guy, and he's very proud of that. There's Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who I also mentioned, Ammar al-Baluchi and Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi. And they have varying levels of alleged involvement in the plot, anywhere from being planners and running al-Qaeda camps to supporting it financially. And that makes it more complicated as well because we have five people being tried all at once, all with legal teams in a very complicated trial.

INSKEEP: You mentioned legal teams. What are their lawyers saying?

RATH: Well, the lawyers have been complaining about a lot of problems over the years, including listening devices being placed where they're supposed to have confidential communications with their clients. This week, they've been complaining about the medical records they're receiving about their clients. They're using those to establish a timeline of their abuse, but they're redacted heavily, missing things like dates and diagnostic information, so it's impossible to establish that kind of timeline. They're still wanting to get access to classified information, and that is a struggle in itself.

INSKEEP: Now, when we say a trial is years away, any idea how many years?

RATH: Well, it keeps getting pushed back. I'd heard estimates of 2020, 2025. I've talked with Jim Harrington, one of the defense attorneys, this week. He says it gets farther and farther away each day because the more they dig into these issues, this court is in uncharted territory. They're establishing precedent pretty much as they go along, so the more they dig into it, in a way, the harder it gets.

INSKEEP: NPR's Arun Rath in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Thanks very much.

RATH: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Beginning in October 2015, Arun Rath assumed a new role as a shared correspondent for NPR and Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH News. He is based in the WGBH newsroom and his time is divided between filing national stories for NPR and local stories for WGBH News.
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