Hearing begins for suspected 9/11 mastermind


By Richard Holt
Last Updated: 9:05am GMT^09/03/2007

Hearings begin today at Guantanamo Bay for a group of 14 terrorist suspects including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged September 11 mastermind.

No lawyers or reporters will be present at the hearings so the only account of the outcome will come from the US military.

Also going on before the hearings panels include Abu Zubaydah, a senior aide to Osama bin Laden, and a man known simply as Hambali, who is alleged to have orchestrated the 2002 Bali bombings.

The detainees were transferred to the US detention centre in Cuba in September after spending years held in secret CIA prisons.

The suspects will go before "combatant status review" panels of three military officers who will decide whether they should continue to be held as "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo.

A Pentagon spokesman said the hearings were closed to prevent classified information from leaking.

But human rights groups and lawyers say the secretive approach further damages US credibility over its treatment and prosecution of terror suspects.

Lawyers for Majid Khan, another of the 14 suspects, have condemned the hearings and said their client was subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" amounting to torture while in a secret CIA prison.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights, which is organising the defence of hundreds of Guantanamo detainees including Khan, said it was "outrageous" that he had not seen his lawyers since October.

The status review panels do not rule on an the suspects' guilt or innocence but a decision to keep the suspects under detention as "enemy combatants" is expected to pave the way for formal trials on terrorism charges before special military tribunals created by the US Congress under controversial new laws.