9/11 suspect to defend self at Guantanamo trial

AP News | A Guantanamo prisoner accused in the Sept. 11 attacks complained Wednesday that his confinement and obstructions by the U.S. military are complicating his court-approved effort to serve as his own lawyer.

Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, one of five men charged in the attacks, said the military did not deliver two letters and a law motion that he wrote to the judge ahead of the pretrial hearing.

The judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, said Ali’s situation will only become more difficult and tried to persuade him to accept his lawyers. Without a security clearance, he said Ali will not have access to classified material during the death penalty trial.

“The way the rules are you will not have access to classified material to assist you in your case,” he said.

Ali said one of his letters disputed allegations that the defendants were coerced into rejecting their lawyers – the focus of this week’s hearings – saying the allegations were the result of a poorly translated joke by the attacks’ confessed mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“I should have a right to write a letter to the judge directly,” said Ali, a nephew and alleged lieutenant to Mohammed who spoke in English.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said the military is looking into Ali’s allegations. He declined further comment.

The five co-defendants were transferred to Guantanamo from secret CIA prisons in 2006 and face possible execution if convicted on charges including murder and conspiracy for the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Four of them say they will represent themselves, setting up further logistical challenges as they attempt to mount a defense while locked in a top-secret prison at the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

They are all appearing separately this week as Kohlmann explores allegations that Mohammed bullied the others into going along with his decision to represent himself at the June 5 arraignment. One defense lawyer said an interpreter overheard other defendants asking a detainee, “So, you’re in the Army now?”

But Ali said Mohammed was only teasing another detainee, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, about the white robe he wore inside the courtroom.

“Mr. Mohammed was joking, just criticizing the clothes he was wearing. He was saying, ‘Are you in the American Navy now,'” he said. “We need translators from our native language who understand our accent.”

Ali and al-Hawsawi, who are both accused of helping to finance the Sept. 11 hijackers, repeatedly denied taking direction from any co-defendants during their appearances Wednesday.

“In our religion, nobody is above us,” Ali said.

Both men also said they were skeptical their Pentagon-appointed lawyers would represent them effectively. Al-Hawsawi said he has not decided whether to accept their help, but Ali stood by his decision to represent himself.

Ali said he needs a computer as well as a better way to communicate with the Americans assigned to his case, whom he has retained as standby counsel. Currently, he said they do not receive his letters until they come to Guantanamo.

He acknowledged his lack of a legal education and a security clearance could put him at greater risk of conviction, but he does not want to validate proceedings he sees as illegitimate.

A spokesman for the commissions, Air Force Capt. Andre Kok, said the defendants will be allowed to see any classified evidence that is presented to the jury.

The U.S. has charged 20 of roughly 265 inmates held at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. So far none of the cases has gone to trial in the special military courts.