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Hearing on 9/11 Conspirator’s Competency

After a Year Delay, Prosecutors To Call Witnesses in Case

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba — Lawyers and the alleged 9/11 conspirators return to the war court today for the first time this year in a U.S. government bid to determine whether one of the accused plotters is competent to stand trial.

At the last hearings, in December, the Army judge ejected alleged conspirator Ramzi bin al Shibh four times for shouting that guards were keeping him awake at night in his cell. The prosecutor sought an evaluation on whether the 41-year-old Yemeni was competent to go to trial, stalling the proceedings.

So now, starting today, the hearings resume with a sealed prosecution proposal to call witnesses on the competency question that looms over the terrorism trial of five men accused of conspiring in the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

Bin al Shibh allegedly aspired to become one of the 9/11 suicide hijackers, but he couldn’t obtain a U.S. visa. He is accused of helping Khalid Sheik Mohammed organize the attacks from Hamburg, Germany.

The prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, proposes to execute the men if they are convicted. He wants to start choosing a military jury in January.

But Bin al Shibh has refused to speak with court-appointed U.S. military mental health experts about his complaint that the military is causing noises and vibrations in his cell at Guantanamo’s clandestine prison for former CIA prisoners, called Camp 7. His is a long-standing complaint that prosecutors say is baseless.

The prosecution is seeking a judicial finding that Bin al Shibh is competent enough to go on trial but delusional about what’s going on in his prison.

“The government will not be presenting any witnesses who will opine on whether Mr. bin al Shibh is presently competent to stand trial as no one has had a recent face-to-face forensic interview to make such a determination,” prosecutors wrote the judge March 27, according to a recipient of the memo.

So instead, the goal of this week’s hearing is to “establish a record that JTF-GTMO (the prison bureaucracy) is not intentionally producing noises, odors or vibrations to intentionally interfere with Mr. bin al Shibh’s confinement.”

The request opens up the possibility of testimony at the war court about what’s going on at Camp 7, where the military segregates former CIA captives from the others in the detention center that contains 154 prisoners.

The admiral in charge of the prison camps said in an interview last month that Camp 7 ha structural problems — cracking floors and walls, and doors that don’t open and close properly. No problems, according to Rear Adm. Richard Butler, are serious enough in his opinion to jeopardize a 2009 Pentagon finding of compliance with the Geneva Conventions that govern how nations treat war prisoners. It was unclear what other business might get done in the four-day session to set the stage for the trial by military commission. The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, agreed to recess until June on Thursday after attorneys sought time to leave the base to observe Easter.