GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks should be tried before a traditional military or civilian court, not the special war crimes tribunals at this high-security base, his newly appointed defense lawyer said Wednesday.
Prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed under an established legal system would ensure his trial is perceived as fair, Navy Capt. Prescott Prince said.
"The American public wants a fair trial," Prince said. "They may want to hang him but they want a fair trial first."
Mohammed and five other prisoners at Guantanamo were charged Feb. 11 for their roles in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and they could get the death penalty if convicted.
In 2006, the U.S. established tribunals at Guantanamo specifically for the prosecution of alleged terrorists. The military has said it plans to prosecute 80 Guantanamo prisoners before the tribunals and has charges pending against 14.
Prince, a member of the Naval reserves who is a Virginia criminal defense lawyer in his civilian life, was appointed by the Pentagon on Tuesday to the high-profile role of defending Mohammed in the first American war crimes trials since the World War II era.
Prince said in an interview the tribunals are a flawed, makeshift system that overwhelmingly favor the prosecution and allow the use of "coerced" statements.
"People should not be tried based on evidence that was obtained with cruel, inhumane and degrading tactics," the lawyer told The Associated Press.
Mohammed, who the military says has admitted his role in the terrorist attacks, is one of three Guantanamo prisoners who the CIA says were subjected to particularly harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the military tribunals, known as commissions, said the system is "extraordinarily fair" and grants adequate rights to detainees.
"The protections ... are virtually identical to the protections we give to our soldiers and sailors," in the military court-martial system, Hartmann said.
So far, none of the six charged in the Sept. 11 attacks has seen their designated military counsel and only one has seen a civilian attorney. Prince said he hopes to visit Mohammed within weeks and begin his defense.
Mohammed last year allegedly confessed to planning 31 terrorist attacks around the world before a military panel in Guantanamo.
Prince said he was not troubled at the prospect of defending someone accused of such crimes. "My job is to make sure everyone gets a fair trial," he said.