Alleged 9/11 Mastermind Gets Guantanamo Hearing

By Al Pessin
12 March 2007

The U.S. Defense Department says it held hearings on Friday and Saturday at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for three of the most notorious terrorism suspects it is holding, including the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman says Saturday's hearing reviewed the status of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who U.S. officials say planned the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. Whitman could not say whether Mohammed chose to participate in the hearing, which is called a Combatant Status Review Tribunal.

He says review tribunals were held Friday for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, who is alleged to have been planning to participate in the September 11 hijackings, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, who is alleged to have replaced Mohammed as the number three leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The spokesman says at least one more review tribunal was scheduled for Monday, but he would not provide details.

Human Rights groups have sharply criticized the Guantanamo detainee process, saying the men are not provided with sufficient rights or legal representation.

At these tribunals, the detainees are not represented by attorneys, but they are allowed to have a military officer help them through the process, and they can present evidence and call witnesses.

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals, held before three U.S. military officers, formally determine whether the men being held at Guantanamo are "enemy combatants." Those who are designated become eligible to be charged and prosecuted in Military Commissions under a new procedure approved by the U.S. congress last year.

In the past, some detainees who were designated "no longer enemy combatants" were released.

But that is not expected for these men, who are among 14 detainees transferred to Guantanamo last year from secret U.S. prisons elsewhere. The U.S. Defense Department says the men are senior terrorist leaders or have been directly involved in planning or carrying out major terrorist attacks. Officials have indicated all these men will have review tribunals in the coming days.

The hearings are only one part of the Combatant Status Review process. The Guantanamo panel's recommendations are forwarded to Washington for approval by senior officials, a process that could take several months.

Officials have barred reporters from covering the tribunals for the 14 new Guantanamo detainees, although hundreds of earlier ones were open to coverage. The officials say these detainees could reveal sensitive information. They have promised to release transcripts of the tribunals within a few days, with secret or sensitive information deleted.

Once a detainee is designated as an "enemy combatant," his status is reviewed annually to determine whether it is necessary to continue to hold him.

More than half the men who have been held at Guantanamo have been released through the review process, with about 385 now being held. Eighty of those men have been approved for release or transfer to custody in another country, pending the results of negotiations with those countries.