Nearly Seven Years Later, A Surreal Day In Court For KSM

Bob Orr is a correspondent for CBS News based in Washington.
You can pick your own word: bizarre … eerie … creepy. I settled on surreal.

There he was sitting about 50 feet from me: the man who claims he planned 9/11 from A to Z. But, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or KSM as the terror-crowd prefers, looked nothing like that almost comic image that's been burned into my brain.

You know the one.

(AP Photo)
The pudgy disheveled man, who looks a little like John Belushi on a bad night, with a redneck white T-shirt and his hair sprouting all over the place.

No, the Mohammed who appeared today was dressed like a spiritual advisor with a long white tunic, neatly wrapped white turban, reading glasses, and a flowing gray beard that would have made Stonewall Jackson jealous.

But, it was not how he looked, but rather what he said that turned this military arraignment into the KSM show.

Speaking in what he called "pretty good English" Mohammed dismissed the procedure as illegitimate, saying he followed the laws of Allah and not the "evil laws of the United States."

He fired his government appointed attorneys and told the judge he was not afraid of the death penalty.

"That is what I wish for," KSM said, "I wish to be martyred for a long time."

Beyond that, KSM made it clear to his co-defendants that he, and not the judge, was in charge. He signaled, gestured, and sent directions down the line to the accused, who sat single file behind him.

The judge repeatedly tried to assert control, and at one point interrupted KSM as he chanted verses from the Koran.

"You're not responding to my questions," the judge admonished. Mohammed simply said, "Okay, go ahead" prompting one court observer to ask, "What, are they going to do hold him in contempt and lock him away indefinitely?"

It's not clear where any of this is going. Legal experts question whether the accused are getting all of the rights they'd have in criminal courts. The Supreme Court could step in and change the rules, and then a change in administrations next January could even shutdown Gitmo altogether.

But, this much is clear. Nearly seven years after the Attacks on America, the notorious self-described 9/11 mastermind finally had a quasi-public day in court.

And it was surreal.