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Alleged Sept. 11 Mastermind's Trial To Begin

2541531 The flight to Guantanamo Bay is, in a word, long. Sitting side by side in web seats in the middle of a C-130 cargo plane for more than five hours was an adventure in itself. After arriving and getting an ID badge, the group of 60 or so journalists boarded buses which were then driven to a ferry for a short ride across the bay.

The bay itself is beautiful. Rolling hills frame the clear blue waters on all sides. Guard posts and American flags dot the landscape. After arriving at the other side of the base, we made our way to an old airplane hangar that is serving as the media center.

From here, most of us will watch Thursday's historic hearing. Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other men will be formally charged with the conspiracy of 9/11; that they conceived it, planned it, trained the 19 hijackers, helped them get into the United States and sent them money to carry out the attacks that killed 2,973 people. They could face the death penalty.

The trial will take place in a brand new courtroom that was built on the military base here at Guantanamo to handle these commissions. The court, which cost more than $10 million to construct, provides about 20 seats for the media.

The occupants of these seats will be the first people, outside of officers of the military and intelligence agencies to see these men since they were captured. Most of them have been in custody for more than five years — some of that spent in CIA secret prisons overseas.

It has only been since September 2006 that these men, the highest ranking al Qaeda operatives in U.S. custody, have been here at Guantanamo, awaiting the military system of justice that will start tomorrow.

One of the big issues hanging over these commissions is what happened to these men while they were in CIA custody. The CIA has already admitted that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding, an interrogation technique where the person is made to feel that he is drowning. What happened to KSM, as he's known, what information was gleaned from his interrogations and what can be admissible in court?

Thursday's hearing will offer the defendants an opportunity to speak, and their court-appointed defense attorneys a chance to make motions and file challenges about the proceedings. The lawyers will also enter pleas of guilty or non-guilty to the charges that these five men were responsible for the worst terrorist attack in history.