Fort Meade - An accused conspirator in the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington was expelled from a courtroom at the Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunal on Tuesday for being disruptive.
During a pre-trial hearing in the death penalty case, Army Colonel Judge James Pohl discussed with the five defendants their right to be present during the courtroom proceedings.
Each of the defendants said he understood his rights until the judge asked Ramzi Binalshibh, who is accused of wiring money to Sept. 11 hijackers and passing information to key al Qaeda operatives.
Binalshibh initially said he did not understand, but then began complaining about his prison cell conditions. He said guards intentionally made banging sounds that kept him awake at night.
Military officials denied the allegations.
Then, raising his voice, Binalshibh complained through an interpreter about “a secret CIA prison.”
As he continued speaking loudly, Pohl warned: “If you don't stop talking, you will be escorted out of the court at this time.”
When Binalshibh continued to speak, Pohl asked the guards to remove the defendant from the courtroom.
The hearing at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba was monitored by Reuters over a closed-circuit broadcast at the Fort Meade, Maryland, army base.
It was not the first time the defendant had been expelled from the court. Pohl also ordered Binalshibh out of the room during a September hearing after he refused to stop shouting.
The US military has identified Binalshibh and the other defendants as “high-value detainees” who played key roles in plotting the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed about 3,000 people, destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City and damaged the Pentagon in Washington.
The five defendants are alleged al Qaeda conspirators who could be executed if convicted of charges that include mass murder, terrorism and hijacking.
The defendants were captured in 2002 and 2003 and were first charged at Guantanamo in 2008. The tribunals and the charges were revised by the Obama administration and the defendants were arraigned on the current version in May 2012.
Other issues raised during the pre-trial hearing on Tuesday included requests by defense attorneys to introduce evidence that the defendants were tortured by their US captors. The defense attorneys also accused Guantanamo prison officials of interfering with their clients' rights to private communications with their lawyers.
As the hearing reconvened after lunch Tuesday afternoon, Binalshibh was brought back where the judge again asked him whether he understood his right to be present in the courtroom.
Binalshibh hesitated, which prompted Pohl to say: “I want you to answer yes or no.”
Then Binalshibh said, in English: “I want to leave ... It's torture, torture. Don't stop me like that.”
The judge then ordered guards to again remove Binalshibh from the courtroom.
“You're stopped,” Pohl said as Binalshibh was escorted out, shouting, “I'm not a war criminal.”
Pohl told Binalshibh's attorney that his client would be allowed back in the courtroom only if he answered the judge's questions and was not disruptive.