Alleged 9/11 Plotter To Have Hearing

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, is seen shortly after his capture during a raid in Pakistan Saturday March 1, 2003 in this photo obtained by the Associated Press. (AP Photo)
AP
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, is expected to face a hearing here within three months to determine whether he is an enemy combatant, a military official said Wednesday.

Mohammed and 13 other "high-value" detainees recently transferred from CIA custody to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will face Combatant Status Review Tribunals, said Navy Capt. Phil Waddingham, director of the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants.

The 14 new detainees will be invited to appear at the hearings, held in a small room inside a prefab building here, which will determine whether they are combatants, Waddingham told reporters. If Mohammed appears, it would mark the first time he has been seen since he was captured more than three years ago.

Detainees can refuse to appear but the tribunals will be held regardless, Waddingham said.

Army Brig. Gen. Edward A. Leacock, the deputy commander of Guantanamo, said the 14 new detainees are being treated humanely.

"They're all adapting well to their new environment," Leacock told reporters here, adding that they're fed three times a day, have recreational opportunities and have opportunities to pray five times per day.

They have been given materials to write letters, which will be given to the Red Cross for mailing after they have been censored by the military, Leacock said. The Red Cross announced in Geneva Wednesday they will visit the 14 new detainees next week.

Waddingham told reporters visiting Guantanamo that preparations were being made for the Combatant Status Review Tribunal for Mohammed and the other 13 detainees.

"I am expecting the CSRTs to begin in two or three months," he said. Every one of the other roughly 450 detainees at Guantanamo, who began arriving in 2002, have already undergone the tribunals. The tribunals for the 14 new arrivals will almost certainly use the same procedures, Waddingham said.

The tribunals are conducted by a three-member military panel, which examines evidence against a detainee, can speak to witnesses, and determines if the detainee is an enemy combatant and should be held. The detainee is represented by U.S. military counsel.

Those judged not to be enemy combatants are generally transferred out of Guantanamo to their home countries. Those determined to be enemy combatants stay locked up here.

The announcement about the hearing came a day after the White House and maverick Senate Republicans began a fresh round of talks over how to handle the nation's most dangerous terrorism suspects, resuscitating GOP hopes for approving a key piece of the president's anti-terror agenda before the November elections.

In a new offer, the White House has conceded changes to its previous proposal, while the Senate Republicans who challenged the administration's plan say they are once again hopeful a deal could be reached.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week passed the senators' proposal by a 15-9 vote, with mostly Democratic support. The president's measure would go further, allowing classified evidence to be withheld from defendants in terror trials and allowing coerced testimony. Mr. Bush also favors a narrower interpretation of the Geneva Conventions that would make it harder to prosecute U.S. interrogators for using harsh techniques.

Ten Guantanamo detainees have been charged with crimes but their military trials were put on hold after the Supreme Court last June ruled that the tribunals were illegal, partly because the Bush administration had set them up without Congressional approval.

Mohammed is believed to be the No. 3 al Qaeda leader before he was captured in Pakistan in 2003. Also among the 14 captives whom U.S. President George W. Bush announced have been transferred to Guantanamo is Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be Sept. 11 hijacker; and Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al Qaeda cells before he was captured in Pakistan in 2002.

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals will also be held for them, Waddingham said.