Getting To Gitmo

Robert Hendin is a CBS News producer in Washington who covers the Department of Justice.
(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
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 tomorrow's historic hearing. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men will be formally charged with the conspiracy of 9/11 – that they conceived it, planned it, trained the hijackers, helped the 19 hijackers getting into the United States and sent them money to carry our 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 have seen these men since they were captured. Most of them have been in custody for more than five years, some of that spent in the custody of the CIA in 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 had been subjected to waterboarding, an interrogation technique where the subject is made to feel that he is drowning. What happened to KSM, as he's known, and what information was gleaned from his interrogations?

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

  • Robert Hendin On Twitter»

    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.