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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) — The self-styled terrorist mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks lectured a military court on government hypocrisy Wednesday and wore a previously banned camouflage vest to his pretrial hearing before being rebuked by the judge for his comments.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was in court as part of a weeklong hearing focusing largely on the secrecy rules that will govern legal proceedings against him at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Mohammed was allowed to wear a hunting-style camouflage vest with his white tunic and turban over the objections of prosecutors, who feared it might disrupt the proceedings.
It had no apparent effect, but his five-minute speech denouncing the government’s arguments about the need to protect national security transfixed the court and drew a reprimand from the judge.
Until that point, the 47-year-old Mohammed sat quietly through a day of courtroom arguments on proposed rules for handling classified evidence in the war-crimes case. When he finally spoke, it was to point out what he saw as the prosecution’s hypocrisy for seeking to keep secret some details of what happened to him during years of captivity in the CIA’s secret prisons.
Mohammed told the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, that “the government uses national security as it chooses,” urging him to keep that in mind as he considers requests from defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union to scale back the rules for evidence and testimony.
“Many can kill people under the name of national security, and to torture people under the name of national security,” the Arabic-speaking Mohammed said through a translator. “And detain their underage children under the name of national security.”
In an apparent reference to Osama bin Laden, Mohammed noted that “the president can take someone and throw them into the sea in the name of national security.”
He also made an oblique reference to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni militant killed in a September 2007 U.S. drone strike, and told the judge not to be affected by the “crocodile tears” of prosecutors when they refer to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks.
“When the government feels sad for the killing of 3,000 on Sept. 11, we also should feel sorry that the U.S. government … has killed thousands of people,” Mohammed said, before correcting himself to say millions of people.
“Your blood is not made of gold and ours is made of water. We are all human beings,” he said.
Pohl had allowed Mohammed to make the statement, but then said he wouldn’t allow it to happen again.
“This is a onetime occurrence,” the judge said. “No matter how heartfelt, I am not going to entertain personal comments of any accused about the ways things are going.”
Mohammed, who has told authorities he was behind the hijacking plot, is charged along with four co-defendants with crimes that include terrorism and murder. He has a history of making inflammatory statements in the handful of times when he has had an opportunity to speak.
In a closed 2007 appearance before a panel of military officers, he compared bin Laden to George Washington, boasted about planning the Sept. 11 attacks “from A to Z,” and said he personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with his “blessed right hand,” according to a transcript.
At his first public court hearing in 2008, he chanted verses of the Quran and said he would welcome becoming a martyr for his Sept. 11 role. The following year he released a written statement calling the attacks a “noble victory.”
Mohammed, whose bushy beard is dyed a rust color with henna, sees himself a prisoner of war and has sought the same right to wear a uniform as Japanese and German troops prosecuted for war crimes after World War II. In the defendant’s case, his uniform is similar to what he wore as a mujahideen fighter in Bosnia and Afghanistan, said one of his lawyers, Army Capt. Jason Wright.
But when Mohammed and a co-defendant tried to wear camouflage at their May 5 arraignment, their request was denied. At the time, the commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison suggested that the camouflage might make it harder for the military prison guards to tell the difference between inmates and U.S. troops if they had to gain control of the prisoners.
Prosecutors also argued it might make a mockery of the military tribunals.
“The detainee’s attire should not transform this commission into a vehicle for propaganda,” prosecutors wrote in a legal motion.
Pohl rejected those arguments Tuesday. He dismissed the possibility that military guards in the courtroom would have any problem distinguishing the bearded defendants. But just to be sure, he specifically prohibited them from wearing any items from U.S. military uniforms.
A small group of relatives of Sept. 11 victims were chosen by lottery to view the proceedings at the base. As Mohammed was entering the courtroom, Al Acquaviva stood at the soundproof glass that separates spectators from the courtroom and held up a photo of his son Paul, who was killed in the World Trade Center.
“I hope he looks,” Acquaviva, who lives in Wayne, N.J., muttered to himself.
The government has already acknowledged some details about the secret CIA prisons where the defendants were held for several years, including the fact that Mohammed was water-boarded 183 times. But prosecutors have said restrictions are necessary to prevent the release of information that would reveal intelligence sources and methods.
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, Hina Shamsi, urged the judge to reject the proposed restrictions, arguing that they were overly broad and intended not to protect national security so much as to prevent the public from learning more details about the harsh treatment of the defendants in the CIA’s prisons overseas.
But government prosecutor Joanna Baltes said the ACLU and other critics of the proposed rules are exaggerating the restrictions. She said the restrictions are similar to those in major terrorism cases in civilian courts. After hearing the arguments, the judge said he would rule later on the issue.
Mohammed and his four co-defendants face charges that include terrorism, conspiracy and 2,976 counts of murder, one count for each known victim of the attacks at the time the charges were filed. They could get the death penalty if convicted.
The trial is likely at least a year away.