9/11 lead defendant Khalid Shaik Mohammad, in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom. (Sketch by Janet Hamlin)
Today’s hearings in the 9/11 case started on time in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.
Defendants KSM, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and Ali Abdul Axis Ali (aka Ammar al Baluchi or “Triple A” or “AAA”) were present when I walked into the Gallery. The other two defendants chose not to appear, which is not uncommon.
The Gallery is a small room with soundproof clear glass through which NGO Observers, Victim’s Family Members, Media, and other visitors are able to watch the hearings. The Gallery has several televisions that show the hearings, with audio on a 40 second delay. We can see what is happening live through the Gallery glass, and 40 seconds later see what we just saw on the TV. It is only through the TV that we can hear what happened in the courtroom, 40 seconds after it actually happened. The purpose of the delay is to prevent the release of classified/confidential information.
There is a curtain in the Gallery separating separating the media and Non Governmental Organization (“NGO”) observers from the victims and victims’ families. The curtain is usually not in use. I have already written about the selection and approval process which allowed me to attend these hearings as an NGO observer. Victims and Victims’ family are chosen based on a lottery system.
The day’s hearing touched on three sets of motions:
- AE 018: The hearings on these motions deal with how certain information is treated and released to either the parties or nonparty actors. I believe there were a total of 13 AE 018 motions on the docket for the week’s hearings.
- AE 422: The 422 motion was filed by the Government. The Government seeks the deposition of family members of the victims of September 11, 2001 during public pre-trial hearings scheduled for 4-14 October 2016.
- AE 133: This motion was filed by the Defense. It is an Emergency Motion to Remove Sustained Barrier to Attorney-Client Communication and Prohibit any Electronic Monitoring and Recording of Attorney-Client Communication in any Location, including Commission Proceedings, Holding Cells, and Meeting Facilities and to Abate Proceedings.
All the filings related to each motion can be found on the military commission website. Howeve,r not all will be public. http://www.mc.mil/CASES/MilitaryCommissions.aspx
I will not discuss each motion that falls under AE 018, but generally they deal with how communications and information can be released, how those communications are reviewed by the various security processes, and the format and timeliness of prosecution’s discovery responses. There are processes in place for the how various communications are to be reviewed and delivered, however the processes continue to evolve as the litigation continues. The discussions on these motions appear to be good examples of the types of issues that have delayed the 9/11 trial. A few of the specific AE 018 motions are:
- AE 018 BB: Government Emergency Motion for Interim Order and Clarification that the Commission’s Order in AE 018U Does Not Create a Means for Non-Privileged Communications to Circumvent the Joint Task Force Mail System.
- AE 018EE: Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Responsive to Mr. Mohammad’s Request for Discovery Dated 14 March 2014. (emphasis added)
- AE 018 KK: Defense Motion to Invalidate Non-Legal Mai Restrictions Unrelated to Legitimate Penological Interests.
- AE 018MM: Defense Motion to Compel Reasonable Privilege Review Team Hours of Operation.
This motion was filed by the prosecution to conduct depositions of certain witnesses. Specifically, the prosecution seeks to depose 10 victims’ family members during the October 2016 hearing. The prosecution wants the depositions conducted in open session at Guantanamo Bay, during the October 2016 hearing. The prosecution cited ages and health concerns, the uncertain posture of the case, and the logistical difficulties for potential witnesses to travel during the actual trial.
The defense generally agreed with the need for depositions but expressed expected concerns about holding the depositions in open court and the proposed dates. The defense teams were not all on the same page with respect to the deposition issue, but some of the arguments expressed by the defense were:
- public hearing will taint potential panel members (jury)
- there is no need to preserve the testimony because there are so many witnesses
- the age and health of potential witnesses is not a factor
- there is no need to have the depositions in open court if the evidence may never be admitted
- if the prosecution wants to preserve evidence for the elderly and those in poor health, bringing them to Guantanamo Bay would be counterproductive
- it does not make sense to have public depositions so close to the election
- there is a difference between having the victims’ voice heard and presented vs. creating a public spectacle
I tend to side with the defense, and if I were to bet, I would bet that depositions will take place, but not in open session and not during the proposed dates. A very recent article by Carol Rosenberg on this issue.
This is an ongoing motion dealing with allegations that the government has been trying to pierce the attorney – client privilege. The defense is concerned that they are subject to monitoring which prevents frank exchanges between the attorney and the client. The motion stems from the finding of microphones in fire detectors in rooms that were used for attorney/client meetings.
I suggest reading the AE 133 motions on the military commission website. The discovery of these microphones is documented.
The prosecution stated that while the recording capabilities were present, they were not used during attorney/client meetings. The prosecution stated that while the microphones were used for other law enforcement purposes in the past, they have not been used to monitor attorney/client meetings related to these trials.
My Personal Observations
One issue that stood out for me was the AE 018MM Motion. This motion was filed by the defense to compel the Privilege Review Team (“PRT”) to have reasonable hours of operation. The Privilege Review Team, among other duties, reviews all documents that are taken to a detainee, including any notes attorneys may bring to an attorney client meeting. If the PRT is not operating, then the team of attorneys cannot take any notes into the meeting. Counsel for Hawsawi told the Judge that the PRT was not “open” on the Saturday and Sunday before Monday’s (Memorial Day) hearing, so they had to meet with their client without being able to bring any notes. To me, this sounds outrageous. How is it possible that a team of attorneys who are only able to see their client during very limited hours, after chartering a military flight that flies infrequently, are not able to bring in notes to a client a day before the hearing just because staff of the Period Review Team did not want to work?
I was initially “convinced” by the defense arguments. However, the prosecution presented a different side to the story.
The prosecution argued that PRT staff are like any other employees and it is not unreasonable for them to have the weekend off, especially a holiday weekend. Additionally, the prosecution stated that the PRT is available as long as appointments are made in advance. Prosecution also stated that it is not uncommon for the defense team to not show up to scheduled appointments. After the prosecution presented their argument I was less outraged, and more confused.
I noticed this sway in many of the arguments I have seen in my limited experience with the Military Commission: the movant pulls on emotional strings and presents facts that help their case, the opposing party presents facts in a way that appear to be unemotional and paint a fuller picture. In the end, I am happy I don’t have the burden of having to make a decision. Having only been at Guantanamo Bay for a few days, and only being able to see what I am allowed to see, I find it very difficult to have a strong opinion one way or the other. It is difficult to gather unbiased information because of the emotions and passions tied to the subject matter. Information I receive could be driven by agendas that I do or do not understand. I have made an effort to keep a neutral point of view in order to allow me to gather as much information as possible before I start to lose impartiality.
The hearing on AE 422 was understandably emotional. The curtain separating the media and NGOs from the victims’ family members was drawn shut. The parties argued about the prosecution’s motion to depose, in public court, family members of the 9/11 victims. One particular testimony would revolve around a telephone conversation occurring as a plane hijacking was taking place, just before United 175 flew into the South Tower. The arguments went into additional details, which I will not do here, but the hearing’s transcript is available on the website of the Military Commission.
KSM was also emotional. He, without the Judge’s permission, expressed his feelings regarding the proceedings. I could not make out everything that was said but part of it dealt with the fact that his attorney is an American person and is representing American interest, which is not neutral. Judge Pohl responded with, “one more word and you’re leaving”. Later, Mr. Nevin (Lead Counsel for KSM) explained that his client was upset because an objection was overruled and that a lack of an interpreter prevented the defendant from understanding the meaning of “deposition”.
On Wednesday the Commission held hearings open to NGOs, Media, and Victims’ of Family Members in the morning session; the Commission held closed session in the afternoon. I will write about these later, but I need to get some rest before the hearings tomorrow. The hearings tomorrow are scheduled to include two witnesses. Both of the witnesses are high value detainees who have not been charged with a crime. They will testify during the hearing on AE 152 which is the Emergency Motion for Show Cause Why the Government, JTF Camp Commander and JTF Guard Force Members Should Not Be Held in Contempt. The motion’s allegation is that Mr. Bin al Shibh continues to be subjected to external sounds and vibrations while detained. Hassan Guleed is expected to testify at 10 in the morning and Abu Zubaydah is expected to testify at the start of the afternoon session.
Leontiy Korolev, J.D., Indiana University McKinney School of Law
Participant, Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL), Indiana University McKinney School of Law