GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – U.S. military officers responsible for defending Guantanamo detainees said they will investigate why five men accused in the Sept. 11 attacks were allowed to talk among themselves at their arraignment and allegedly pressure one defendants to reject his lawyers.
All five said they would represent themselves in the death penalty trial, the first U.S. attempt to prosecute those believed to be directly responsible for killing 2,973 people in the bloodiest terrorist attacks ever on U.S. soil.
None entered pleas, and two said they hope to become martyrs for their anti-American cause.
But lawyers for Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi complained he was pressured by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former third-ranking al-Qaida leader and alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks.
"It was clear Mr. Mohammed was trying to intimidate Mr. Hawsawi," said Army Maj. Jon Jackson, his lead military attorney. "He was shaking."
Jackson complained to the judge after an interpreter overheard other defendants asking al-Hawsawi questions like, "So, you're in the Army now?"
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Al-Hawsawi, who allegedly helped Sept. 11 hijackers prepare for the attacks with money and Western-style clothing, looked thin and frail as he sat on a pillow on his chair. The others appeared to be in robust health.
Chief military defense counsel Stephen David, an Army colonel, said it's troubling that the alleged coconspirators were allowed to talk unhindered in their first meeting since they were captured years ago.
"We will have to investigate," David said.
Army Col. Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor, said his office was not responsible for controlling when defendants talk to each other, but that "the government is as concerned as the defense" about the issue.
Thursday's arraignment at this isolated U.S. Navy base marked Mohammed's first appearance since his capture in Pakistan in 2003. Noticeably thinner and wearing prison-issue glasses, a turban and a bushy, gray beard, he appeared starkly different from the slovenly man with disheveled hair, unshaven face and T-shirt in the widely distributed capture photo.
Judge Ralph Kohlmann warned Mohammed he faces the death penalty if convicted of organizing the attacks on America. But the accused mastermind of the terrorist attacks said he can't accept U.S. lawyers — only Islamic "Sharia" law — and would welcome being executed.
"This is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time," Mohammed said. "I will, God willing, have this, by you."
Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged main intermediary between the 19 hijackers and al-Qaida leaders, responded similarly: "If this martyrdom happens today, I welcome it. God is great. God is great. God is great."
One of the civilian attorneys he spurned, David Nevin, told The Associated Press he would try to meet with Mohammed to "hear him out and see if we can give him information that is helpful."
Asked how any attorney can defend a man who wants the death penalty, the Boise, Idaho, lawyer said: "It's a tricky matter. I don't have a good answer for you."
Waleed bin Attash, who allegedly selected and trained some of the hijackers, asked the judge whether they would be buried at Guantanamo or if their bodies would be shipped home after execution.
Kohlmann, a Marine colonel with a crewcut who was dressed in black robes, refused to address the question.
The judge said he would set a trial schedule later. Even the timing of the war crimes trial is controversial.
The defense has moved to dismiss the charges, accusing the military of rushing the case to get the detainees convicted just before the Nov. 4 presidential election. The tribunals also could be derailed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this month on the rights of Guantanamo detainees.
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both say they want to close the detention center. But while McCain supported the Military Commissions Act that resurrected the tribunals in 2006 after a Supreme Court setback, Obama opposed it.