Defendant disrupts Gitmo hearing in 9/11 case

Sep 16, 2013, 10:05 AM EDT
The US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 9, 2013.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) — A defendant in the Sept. 11 case at Guantanamo Bay was ejected from the courtroom Monday after arguing with the judge at the start of a pretrial hearing.

Ramzi Binalshibh got into a heated exchange with the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, shortly after the hearing opened. The defendants were being advised of their rights to sit out the rest of a pretrial session scheduled to run through Friday.

The defendant, a Yemeni who allegedly had been selected to be a Sept. 11 hijacker, sought to use what was supposed to be a brief acknowledgement of his rights as an opportunity to address the court at the U.S. base in Cuba. His words were not entirely clear through the court sound system but he mentioned sleep deprivation and insisted he should be allowed to speak.

"You can't stop me talking," he said.

Pohl rebuffed him. "No, you don't have a right to talk," the judge said, before warning his attorney that he would be removed if he continued to speak out. After several more exchanges, Pohl ordered guards to remove him and said Binalshibh would be required to attend the rest of the week's session.

As Binalshibh stood and gestured at the judge, a row of uniformed guards along the wall of the courtroom immediately stood, and then three of them led the defendant out of the courtroom.

The lead defendant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also sought to address the court as he has in the past but the judge cut him off as well.

"Mr. Mohammed, I am not here to discuss a legal issue ... I'm simply giving you your rights to be absent," Pohl said.

The exchanges came at the start of a hearing that was supposed to focus largely on problems with a Pentagon computer system used by lawyers in the case. Defense lawyers say they have lost data and have doubts about the security of their email. They have asked the judge to put the proceedings on hold until the issue is resolved.

The morning session was abruptly halted because one of the defense lawyers, Cheryl Bormann, was sick with flu-like symptoms. She was going to a base hospital for treatment.

This is the sixth session of pretrial hearings in the case since the five men charged in the attacks were arraigned in May 2012. No trial date has been set. Mohammed, Binalshibh and their three co-defendants face charges that include terrorism and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They could get the death penalty if convicted.