United States V. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - The Trial in A Military Commission

The Trial in A Military Commission

The trial, presided over by judge Ralph Kohlmann, began on June 5, 2008, with the arraignment. About thirty-five journalists watched on closed-circuit TV in a press room inside a converted hangar, while two dozen others watched through a window from a room adjacent to the courtroom.

Mohammed insisted he would not be represented by any attorneys. The other detainees quickly followed suit and said they too wanted to represent themselves. One of the civilian attorneys Mohammed spurned, David Nevin, later told the Associated Press that he would attempt to meet with Mohammed to "hear him out and see if we can give him information that is helpful."

Mohammed was careful not to interrupt Kohlmann. He lost his composure only after the Marine colonel ordered several defense attorneys to keep quiet "It's an inquisition. It's not a trial," Mohammed said in broken English, his voice rising. "After torturing they transfer us to inquisition-land in Guantanamo."

He explained he believes only in religious Sharia law and railed against U.S. President George W. Bush for waging a "crusade war." When judge warned Mohammed that he faces execution if convicted of organizing the attacks on America, Mohammed said he welcomes the death penalty. "Yes, this is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time," Mohammed declared. "I will, God willing, have this, by you."

A sound feed to journalists from the courtroom was turned off twice.

The sound was also turned off when another defendant discussed early days of his imprisonment. Judge Ralph Kohlmann said that in both cases sound was turned off because classified information was discussed.

On September 23, 2008, in the voir dire process, Mohammed questioned the judge on his potential bias at trial. "Glaring and poking an occasional finger in the air," Mohammed told Kohlmann, "The government considers all of us fanatical extremists," and asked, "How can you, as an officer of the U.S. Marine Corps, stand over me in judgment?" Insisting that he was attempting to work out if Kohlmann was a religious extremist, he continued: " Bush said this is a crusader war and Osama bin Laden said this is a holy war against the crusades. If you were part of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson’s group, then you would not be impartial."

For his part, Kohlmann attempted to maintain his dignity, explaining that he was currently unaffiliated with a church "because I’ve moved so often." He added that he had previously worshipped at "various Lutheran churches and Episcopal churches."

Mohammed then proceeded to ask Kohlmann about his views on torture. As part of the background materials supplied to him — or made available to the civilian lawyers who are voluntarily assisting him in his defense — he referred to an ethics seminar that Kohlmann had conducted at his daughter’s high school in 2005, in which the students had been asked to consider their responses to a “Ticking Time Bomb” scenario. Based on a fictional proposition that a bomb is about to go off, and an unwilling captive knows its location but is unwilling to disclose the information, the scenario is widely used by proponents of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to justify the use of torture.

Kohlmann explained that he encouraged the debate as part of "a complex question that might be dealt with differently if someone were specifically trying to save the nation or just looking at it from an ethical sense or just looking at it from a legal sense," and dismissed a combative question from Mohammed — "It seems that you are supportive of the use of torture for national security?" — by stating, "I have no idea where that would come from."

On October 12, 2008, Kohlmann ruled that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his four co-charged, should be provided with laptops, so they can work on their defenses.

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