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June 5, 2008 NBC Nightly News, 7:00 PM
BRIAN WILLIAMS: A dramatic scene today in an American courtroom in Cuba. The man accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks made his first public appearance in a court – a military courtroom in this case, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, the first time anyone charged directly with the hijackings was in court to hear the charges.
Our own Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszweski was there. He got there by cargo plane on a trip arranged by the Pentagon for reporters and he’s with us tonight. Jim, good evening.
JIM MIKLASZWESKI: Good evening, Brian. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants faced arraignment here today on charges of conspiracy, terrorism, and murder for the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of 9/11, appeared robust and confident with a long, full, salt-and-pepper beard – a far cry from the confused, disheveled look when he was captured more than five years ago. But today Mohammed was defiant, telling the military commission he’s willing to die.
Mohammed called the legal proceedings evil, rejected his defense attorneys, and said he wanted to represent himself. When a judge asked if he understood he could get the death penalty, Mohammed shot back: “That is what I wish. I wish to be martyred.” One by one, the remaining defendants followed his lead and rejected their attorneys.
In what sounded like a confession, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the so-called 20th hijacker, said he too wanted to be a martyr on 9/11, but was denied entry to the U.S. He told the commission: “I tried to get a visa, but could not.”
But Mohammed commanded the center stage. He called the proceedings an inquisition and claimed after five years of torture, “they transfer us to inquisition-land, Guantanamo.” Mohammed was waterboarded by the CIA. Defense attorneys had intended to challenge any of Mohammed’s statements on the grounds he was tortured.
LT. COMMANDER BRIAN MIZER [Military Commissions Defense Attorney]: Because in the back of the detainee’s mind is always the possibility that they’ve done it to me once before, they can do it again.
MIKLASZWESKI: Observers of today’s hearing included the head of the American Civil Liberties Union, a critic of the commission process.
ANTHONY ROMERO [Executive Director, ACLU ]: I think today has been a complete and utter farce, that it’s clear that the rules of the commissions are imploding on themselves.
MIKLASZWESKI: As of late tonight, no trial date has been set for any of the five 9/11 defendants. In fact, many legal experts predict these defendants may never face a trial before military commissions, delaying justice once again for those families of 9/11. Brian? World News With Charles Gibson (ABC), 6:30 PM
CHARLES GIBSON: Now to the start of one of the most extraordinary legal proceedings in this country’s history: the military trial of the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Five years after his capture in Pakistan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants were arraigned today at the Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Our legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg was in the courtroom.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Charlie, his name has become notorious, synonymous in the minds of many with evil. Today we saw for the first time since his capture, very much defiant.
He imagined the unimaginable: hijacking airplanes, flying them into buildings. Without Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the government says, September 11th would not have happened. His appearance has changed dramatically since he was captured five years ago. Today, with a long bushy beard and dark glasses, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed spoke calmly, but forcefully. He called American law evil and rejected his U.S. lawyers. “I know my team is maybe the best team,” he said. “The problem is their President George Bush, who wage crusade against the Islamic world.”
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed faces charges of murder, terrorism, hijacking. Judge Ralph Kohlmann told KSM he could get the death penalty. “Yes, that is what I wish,” he replied. “I’m looking to be martyred.”
There were four other top al Qaeda suspects in court, men accused of planning, organizing or financing the September 11th attacks. They too rejected their U.S. lawyers and lashed out at the government. One, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, said he was supposed to be hijacker on September 11th. “I tried for 9/11 to get a visa, and I could not,” he said. “If this martyrdom happens today, I welcome it. God is great. God is great. God is great.”
It was believed to be the first time these men have been together since their capture. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed frequently would whisper to one of the men who would whisper in turn to the others.
Journalists from around the world have come here to Guantanamo to cover today’s hearing. We sat in the back of the courtroom, watching the proceedings. And Charlie, I’ve got to tell you, I spent hours just staring at Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sitting there like everyone else – a man that for years we’ve come to think of as evil.
GIBSON: Jan Crawford Greenburg reporting tonight from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Thanks to you. CBS Evening News, 6:30 PM
KATIE COURIC: Nearly seven years after 9/11, the terrorist who says he planned the attacks was brought before a military tribunal today on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was the first court appearance for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed since the CIA captured him while he was sleeping in Pakistan five years ago. He and four alleged co-conspirators heard the charges against them – charges that could get them the death penalty. Mohammed told the court he wants to die a martyr and plans to represent himself.
Our justice correspondent Bob Orr is at Guantanamo. And, Bob, it was quite a scene there today.
BOB ORR: Katie, there’s no doubt about it. This first military court appearance by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was both dramatic and also bizarre. Sitting next to four alleged al Qaeda co-conspirators, the self-proclaimed mastermind of 9/11 said openly in court that he’d been tortured by the U.S. and he called the case against him a sham.
It was a surreal reunion of five men who the government charges were on the board of directors of al Qaeda. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, looking dramatically different from the disheveled man in this now infamous mug shot, was clearly in charge. Mohammed dressed in a white tunic and turban with a flowing 10-inch beard openly made hand signals and seemed to be directing his co-defendants, who sat single-file behind him: Waleed bin Attash, known as Khalad (ph), accused of running terror training camps; Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who the government says helped train the 9/11 hijackers; and two money men, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Hawsawi, accused of financing the attacks.
But Mohammed, educated in the U.S., dominated the courtroom. Chanting verses from the Quran and providing his own English translation, KSM said he only answered to the laws of Allah, and he rejected his American lawyer, saying “Their President George Bush waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq and they are still killing people there.”
KSM, who the CIA admits was subjected to waterboarding, questioned the legitimacy of the military hearing. “For five years, they torture,” he said. “After the torturing, they transfer us to inquisition-land in Guantanamo.” The judge warned KSM against representing himself, reminding the accused terror chief that he and his colleagues are charged with killing nearly 3,000 Americans and they could be sentenced to death. “That is what I wish,” Mohammed calmly responded. “I wished to be martyred for a long time.”
Co-defendant bin al-Shibh, who tried four times to joint the 9/11 hijackers in their attacks, echoed that defiance, telling the court with a smile: “I’ve been seeking martyrdom for five years. I tried for 9/11 and could not get a visa. If this martyrdom happens today, so be it.”
The others also followed KSM’s lead. Each fired his lawyers and each condemned the legal process. In nearly perfect English, detainee Aziz Ali put it this way: “This government failed to treat me as a human for five years. My conscience does not allow me to participate.”
Some legal critics call the hearing, which is now ended, a complete and utter farce – at a minimum, it was certainly weird. At one point, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, objected to one of the court’s sketches of him. He said it was an unfair image. The sketch eventually was changed. Katie?
COURIC: Bob Orr at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bob, thank you. Special Report With Brit Hume (FNC), 6:00 PM
BRIT HUME: The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks went before a military tribunal today and said he intends to plead guilty. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four co-defendants are making their first appearance in court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
National correspondent Catherine Herridge is there live. Hi, Catherine.
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Thanks, Brit. This is the first time anyone outside of the military or the intelligence community has seen the alleged inner circle of the 9/11 conspiracy. Today, two of the accused, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed architect of the attacks, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an alleged member of the Hamburg cell led by hijacker Mohammed Atta, told the court that they want to die.
But what’s significant today is that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured five years ago, held at a CIA secret prison where he was waterboarded, then transferred to Guantanamo Bay, is still determined to be in control. He told the judge that he was rejecting the military commissions because American law is, quote, “evil” and he was rejecting his military and civilian lawyers. The judge wanted to be sure he understood the implications because this is a death penalty case. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said, quote, “That is what I wish. I wish to be martyred.” Ramzi bin al-Shibh later told the court he was guilty and had been trying to become a martyr for five years.
One of the most striking elements today was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s dramatic change in appearance. We’re all familiar with the picture released by the U.S. government of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed shortly after his capture in Pakistan in March of 2003 – the dark, disheveled hair, he’s unshaven wearing a white T-shirt.
Today he is virtually unrecognizable. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is now the spitting image of bin Laden’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. He has a long white and grey beard about a foot long reaching down to his mid-chest. He looks much older than his 43 years. He wore a traditional head covering and thick, military-issued glasses that wrapped around his head.
The hearing continues at this hour at the military court just 50 yards from where I am standing. And it was significant today, Brit, that the four other accused followed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lead, telling the judge that they didn’t want their military or civilian lawyers. Military officials tell Fox this is their right within the system, but an observer from the ACLU said today it was another example of why these proceedings are a farce. Brit?
HUME: Catherine, you’ve been reporting on these guys, these alleged conspirators now for – what? – seven years. Did anything strike you about their interaction in that court today?
HERRIDGE: Really a couple of episodes, Brit. Twenty minutes before the hearing began, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed clearly took control of the group. They were all seated on the left-hand side of the court, each at a separate desk; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the front. He turned to the suspect next to him and started whispering and then like broken telephone, they passed the message down the chain. What is clear to me tonight is that that group made a decision to follow Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lead and to say to the court they didn’t want these military or civilian lawyers.
Also, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed repeatedly during the course of the hearing lifted his finger as if to signal to the others there is only one God, there is only Allah and Allah has jurisdiction in this court. Brit?
HUME: Well, Catherine, very interesting. Thank you very much. The Situation Room (CNN), 4:00 PM
WOLF BLITZER: Nearly seven years after 9/11 attacks, five alleged terrorists are now facing a military court. Day one of the trial featured dramatic words from the alleged architect of the 9/11 plot. Let’s go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She’s live at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Not a whole lot of live shots we get from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, but this is an historic day.
Kelli, tell our viewers what’s going on.
KELLI ARENA: Sure is, Wolf. Five men, all accused of playing a critical role in the September 11th attacks, in the same room at the same time They sat at five separate tables, but they were clearly united with Khalid Sheikh Mohamed seemingly in charge.
The U.S. government and self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed both agree on one thing: he should die. Mohammed, who looked starkly different from when he was captured – thinner, with a long gray beard – told the military judge here in Guantanamo Bay that he doesn’t want a defense team or a trial. He wants to be a martyr. Mohammed insisted on representing himself. He called the U.S. legal system evil and said he would only recognize sharia, or Islamic law. The judge tried to talk him out of it, but Mohammed mocked him calling the trial an inquisition.
“After the torture, they transfer us to inquisition land in Gunatanamo,” he said. The CIA has admitted to waterboarding Mohammed during interrogations and evidence from that questioning may be introduced to trial – something that would never be allowed in a civilian court. CNN spoke to his lawyer before the proceedings.
CAPT. PRESCOTT PRINCE [Mohammed’s Attorney]: That’s not the rule of law. That’s just insanity.
ARENA: One by one, the detainees followed Mohammed’s lead, rejecting their legal teams. Ramsey bin al-Shibh, who the government said helped with 9/11 planning, told the judge that he’s wanted to be a martyr for years. His civilian attorney blasted the process as preposterous.
TOM DURKIN [Bin al-Shibh’s Attorney]: There’s a serious systemic problem here of proceeding with the representation. It’s preposterous.
ARENA: This was the first time the detainees have been in the same room in years. For the most part, they looked healthy, only bin al-Shibh in shackles. At times, they ignored the proceedings going on around them, choosing to spend their time in court doing what they have not been able to do for years: talk to each other.
Wolf, this was just an arraignment and it’s still going on. It’s been going on all day. You can only imagine how complicated any trial would be.
BLITZER: You were inside when this took place. Give us a little flavor of what he looked like. You actually saw this guy.
ARENA: I did, Wolf. After all these years and only having seen that picture of him when he was taken into custody – very heavy, very disheveled. He looked like an entirely different man. He was very thin. He had a very long, salt and pepper beard – very calm, almost scholarly in his approach toward the other defendants that were all sitting at separate tables. But talking to them, almost looking like he was advising them, shaking his finger and trying to – it looked like, from where we were – we couldn’t hear him – it looked like he was trying to give them guidance or instruction of some sort.
BLITZER: Thanks. Kelli Arena’s at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where only a few journalists have been allowed there on this day. Thank you, Kelli. Jim Lehrer Newshour (PBS), 7:00 PM
JEFFREY BROWN: Nearly seven years after the September 11th attacks, the al-Qaida operative who confessed to planning that strike was charged today with 2,973 counts of murder, one for every victim on 9/11.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed faces a possible death sentence, if convicted in a military tribunal at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Also arraigned today on similar charged were: Waleed Bin Attash; Ramzi bin al-Shibh; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali; and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi.
But hanging over these proceedings are continuing controversies over the alleged abusive treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere and the legality of the military commissions system itself.
The original tribunals, initially a presidential creation, were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Congress then passed the Military Commission Act in 2006, reconstituting the tribunal system, but that law is also now under Supreme Court review.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and, like his co-defendants, was held by the CIA in secret prisons at undisclosed locations overseas.
The CIA has acknowledged interrogating Mohammed with the controlled drowning technique known as waterboarding.
Mohammed and his co-defendants were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006. Since then, their case and others have provoked several legal twists and much confusion.
Yesterday, Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the chief legal adviser to the tribunals, said the system’s clear goal is impartial justice.
BRIG. GEN. THOMAS HARTMANN [Legal Adviser, U.S. Military Tribunal System]: Our focus is on making sure, making absolutely sure within the power that we’ve got under the Military Commission Act, that was passed in conjunction with the president and the Congress, and the Department of Defense, to make sure that these trials are fair, just and transparent.
BROWN: But Hartmann himself was removed from the supervision of one case just last month by a tribunal judge. Hartmann’s office was to be a neutral arbiter between the prosecution and defense in all cases, but the judge found he had pressed attorneys to prosecute high-profile cases first and recommended how the prosecutions should proceed.
Hartmann had no comment on the ruling, but had in the past denied any meddling. The case from which he was removed involved Salim Hamdan, who had been Osama bin Laden’s driver.
In a further turn of events, the former chief prosecutor for the tribunals, Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, testified on Hamdan’s behalf after resigning his post in protest. Davis said there had been improper political meddling in the cases by Pentagon officials.
At Guantanamo today, a naval reserve defense attorney not involved with Mohammed or his co-defendants said the process was flawed.
CMDR. SUZANNE LACHELIER [U.S. Naval Reserve]: I think the American people, if they watched, and if they knew what was going on, if they understood the ramifications in the long term to our Constitution, to their Constitution, I think they would be ashamed.
I wear the uniform with pride. I am proud to be a member of the U.S. Navy, but I don’t think these proceedings make for a proud day for any member of the service.
BROWN: Last month, an FBI inspector general report suggested that there had been abuse of detainees at military prisoners, including Guantanamo.
FBI agents allegedly witnessed abuse and reported the activity. Those statements reached the National Security Council, but prompted no action.
President Bush and Senators Obama and McCain have all said that Guantanamo should be closed, but for the foreseeable future that detainees will remain there, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear recently in this exchange.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): What is the status of your Pentagon review? And what is the status of the interagency review to close Guantanamo?
DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: Senator, I think the brutally frank answer is that we’re stuck.
BROWN: In the meantime, the trials of the men arraigned today are scheduled to begin September 15th, unless the Supreme Court once again invalidates the military commission process.
WOODRUFF: A short time ago, Jeff spoke with Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald from Guantanamo Bay. She’s been watching today’s proceedings on closed-circuit television.
BROWN: Well, Carol, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told the judge today that he would welcome becoming a “martyr,” his word. What else struck you about what he and the others had to say?
CAROL ROSENBERG [The Miami Herald]: Well, what we saw this morning was remarkable. Until nine o’clock this morning, these men were ghosts, held for three years by the CIA off the records of the Red Cross, came here to Guantanamo in 2006, and hadn’t seen their lawyers until five or six weeks ago.
They were in court. Only one of them was shackled to the floor. They were articulate. They one-by-one rejected the legitimacy of the court. They one-by-one said they didn’t want their U.S.-paid lawyers. And they said they wanted to defend themselves.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said he would welcome martyrdom. This was during the detainee-by-detainee questioning from the judge, Colonel Kohlmann, of their capacity to act as their own attorneys.
He led them through a series of questions and, when he asked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed if he understood that the punishment for this crime, which is the overarching 9/11 conspiracy, was death, he said he welcomed martyrdom.
BROWN: And since it has been so long since we’ve seen him and the others, what was your impressions of how he looked? What was his demeanor?
ROSENBERG: He was a big surprise. You know, the picture that we all have in our mind is of that man who was rousted out of in bed in Pakistan in his t-shirt with tussled hair. Well, he looks like that man’s father or grandfather.
He has a huge, burly beard. It’s mostly white. There’s a debate about whether the beard puts weight on him or he looks heavier. But I don’t recognize the man in the picture from the man in the court today.
BROWN: Carol, everything about this is so unusual. Tell us a little bit about the security setup there, how you and other observers were able to watch. And I understand there’s a delay system in what you’re actually hearing from there?
ROSENBERG: They’ve built a maximum-security bunker. And inside it is the courtroom. It is equipped with a sound-proofed viewing booth for the media and legal observers and a closed-circuit feed to the media room. And there’s a 20-second delay.
And as the judge explained when he started this morning, there’s a security officer with his finger on the button. He can mute what these men say.
And we’ve seen it used a number of times today, one reference apparently to torture. We don’t know what came next. There was some white noise, and the feed went off the screen.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the attorneys – excuse me, Ramzi bin al Shibh, one of the detainees, who – the one who was shackled to the floor, talked about some psychotropic drugs he was on, and the screen went blank, and the white noise came, and we were told that we couldn’t hear the discussion of what kind of drugs he’s on as part of his HIPAA privacy protections.
BROWN: Are defense attorneys present there? What is the status of that?
ROSENBERG: Yes, it looks like this. You have the men sitting in the defendant’s chairs, five in a row. Alongside each one of them are one, two, three, and, in one instance, I believe four attorneys, military and civilian, and a translator.
Just to the other side of them are two and three guards each. And the lawyers are sitting there. You have the attorneys – men and women – in military uniforms, who’ve been appointed by the Pentagon to defend them free of charge.
And you also have men and women in suits, civilians, who the criminal defense lawyers groups have put together to help defend these guys.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a number of other groups have been supporting providing defense lawyers for these gentlemen because they’re facing the death penalty and they believe that they need a full, robust defense team.
But what we saw today is these detainees, the men accused of the 9/11 attacks, are rejecting their lawyers. In some instances, they’re saying that they’d like to have them as advisers, but in no instances are they allowing them to be their attorneys.
And that’s because, they say, they’re wearing the uniform of the enemy and this military commission, with officers as judges and jurors and defense attorneys, in their mind, is illegitimate.
One of the defendants who explained that he’s Microsoft Office-trained and is the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said, “You think I’m a criminal? I think this is political.”
BROWN: Carol, we mentioned in our setup the Supreme Court case looming over this and the various continuing criticisms over whether the tribunals themselves are fair. What happens next in this particular case?
ROSENBERG: Well, first of all, the judge is going to decide whether Ramzi bin al-Shibh can act as his own lawyer. This is still to be worked out.
He’s found provisionally that three of the other men have enough competency and understanding of the process to act as attorneys.
What would happen, if there were military defense attorneys, is then there would be law motions. And the law motions would argue that parts of the crime are irrelevant or that there’s – seek to disregard or exclude evidence.
But with these men acting as their own attorneys, we’re not sure where the next phase goes.
BROWN: All right, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, thanks very much.
ROSENBERG: Thank you.