GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The military judge presiding over the Sept. 11 war crimes tribunal at Guantanamo ejected one defendant from the courtroom twice Tuesday for speaking out of turn, adding a bit of drama to an otherwise dry pretrial motions hearing at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Ramzi Binalshibh, one of five Guantanamo prisoners charged with orchestrating the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, refused repeated warnings to stop trying to address the judge about what he claims are efforts by guards to keep him awake at night with banging sounds inside his cell.
But the judge, whose courtroom was repeatedly disrupted when the defendants were arraigned in May 2012, was having none of it. Army Col. James Pohl ordered troops to remove Binalshibh and place him in a holding cell.
Then the same scene repeated itself in the afternoon session, and the judge warned it would happen again if the defendant tried again on Wednesday. “If he is disruptive he will be escorted from the courtroom,” Pohl told the lawyers for Binalshibh.
He also said he was concerned that the prisoner might shout out classified information, prompting courtroom censors to cut the sound. “I don’t know what he’ll say,” he said.
Both removals occurred as the judge asked Binalshibh if he understood he has the right to be absent from the remainder of the pretrial motions hearing this week. The four other defendants also answered in the affirmative.
Binalshibh used the question as an opportunity to repeat claims that prison authorities use sounds and vibrations to keep him awake at night inside Camp 7, the high-security section of Guantanamo where he and the other defendants in the Sept. 11 case are held. Prosecutors say they have looked into the matter and were assured that no noises are being made.
The prisoner became more agitated as the judge attempted to silence him. Speaking in a mixture of English and Arabic, he referred to the “secret CIA prison,” and said his life was in danger. As he was being led out, he shouted to the judge “You are a war criminal.”
The conditions of confinement are a major issue in the proceedings since Binalshibh and his four co-defendants were held in CIA prisons overseas, and subjected to treatment that their lawyers say amounted to torture, before they were taken to Guantanamo in September 2006.
Pohl suggested to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, a Pentagon-appointed lawyer for Binalshibh, that the prisoner may need a mental evaluation. The lawyer said his client is “not delusional” and the court should order an attempt to document any noise because the lack of sleep is inhibiting the 41-year-old prisoner’s ability to attend court sessions.
“It’s not that he doesn’t want to be present,” Bogucki said. “He wants to be meaningfully present.”
The rest of the day’s session dealt largely with arguments on a defense motion to dismiss the charges based on their claim that the capital charges against the five prisoners were improperly filed. The session, the eighth since their arraignment, is scheduled to run through Friday.
All five prisoners face trial by military commission, a special court for wartime offenses that includes elements of the military and civilian legal systems, on charges that include terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. Prosecutors have requested a trial in early 2015 but a date has not been set.