The Washington-based legal group Judicial Watch earlier this month sent an investigator to Guantanamo Bay Naval Air Station, Cuba, to watch the May 5 arraignment of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad (aka KSM) and four others accused of plotting and executing the Sept. 11, 2001, airline attacks.
Judicial Watch outlined the disruptive tactics of the five terrorism suspects, who stretched out the proceedings for 13 hours through a series of deliberate delaying actions.
The four others on trial in Cuba are Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi. All are charged with terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, and destroying property in violation of the law of war.
Judicial Watch stated in notes provided to Inside the Ring that the disruptive tactics included:
• Refusal to wear any of the listening devices provided for the purpose of simultaneously interpreting into Arabic everything said in open court.
• Refusal to answer the judge’s direct questions as to whether the listening devices were working, whether the attorneys provided by the U.S. government at no charge on the defendants’ behalf were acceptable to them, and whether they understood the charges against them.
• Smiling, giggling, gesturing, talking, passing notes and even sharing a magazine among the five accused. Additionally, reputed mastermind KSM - who sat at the front table on the defense’s side of the courtroom - used a bold marker to make signs that he hung from a computer screen and microphone at his station in view of his followers sitting directly behind him.
Linguists complained during the hearing that touching the microphone caused static that impaired their ability to hear and interpret the proceedings. They also complained that side conversations further prevented them from hearing and interpreting the proceedings.
• Abruptly rising to engage in a repetitive stand, bend, kneel pattern of prayer at times not related to any recognized worship obligations.
• Removing clothing while engaging in a verbal outburst to allege mistreatment in confinement. Bin Attash also claimed that former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was being detained at Guantanamo. Gadhafi was killed by Libyan rebels in October.
Another oddity: A defense attorney donned a black head covering and full-body gown known in the Middle East as an abaya.
Lawyer Cheryl Bormann, who has said she is not Muslim and was a Chicago public defender before the Cuba proceedings, urged the court to order that the female members of the prosecution team, including a Navy lieutenant who wore a service dress-blue uniform, be ordered to wear similar Muslim garb out of respect for the religious duties of her client, Bin Attash.
“The strangest incident, however,” according to Judicial Watch, “may have been a defendant’s parting greeting toward a transparent divider at the rear of the courtroom.”
“Beyond the transparent divider sat a handful of the 9/11 victims’ surviving family members who had been invited to observe the proceedings in person,” the notes stated.
“Eddie Bracken, whose sister was killed in the World Trade Center prong of the attack, said at a press conference held the following morning that Binalshibh mocked his sister’s death by smiling and giving Bracken a thumbs-up sign the night before. Although a thumbs-up gesture generally means approval or agreement in the United States, in the Middle East the sign is considered obscene and symbolizes an insult … .”
The five defendants attempted to plead guilty in October 2008, but those pleas were voided after the Obama administration sought to move the case to the Justice Department.
The defendants said through their attorneys that they are refusing to participate in the proceedings to protest the legitimacy of the military tribunal.
The presiding judge at the hearing was Army Judge Col. James Pohl, who granted the defense’s request to start the death-penalty trial no earlier than May 5, 2013.
CYBER THINK-TANK EXCHANGE
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, which has taken a turn to the left under current President John Hamre, recently held an unusual series of meetings in China on cybersecurity.
China’s state-run newspaper Global Times reported last month that U.S. and China were “discreetly” engaged in cyberwarfare exercises involving U.S. and Chinese think tank specialists.
The problem, according to U.S. officials, is that the Chinese think tank involved was a front for the political police and intelligence services known as the Ministry of State Security.
The front group is the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, known as CICIR (pronounced “kicker”), which is notorious among U.S. security and intelligence officials for its work on behalf of Chinese intelligence.
According to the Chinese newspaper, the cyber war games were designed to show how each country would react to a sophisticated computer-virus attack like the notorious Stuxnet that damaged Iran’s industrial-control systems, including at the nuclear plant at Bushehr.
China has been widely identified as being among the most aggressive states in conducting cyber-espionage and cyberwarfare, and the exchange has raised questions about whether holding even informal cooperation with the Chinese would boost their capabilities or knowledge of how to attack the United States.
The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in its annual report last year, said CICIR is “the public face” of the intelligence ministry.
“Aside from its public role, CICIR is fully incorporated as the Eighth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security and provides research and analysis for the Chinese leadership,” the report said, noting that the front frequently hosts U.S. visitors and is a part of Chinese propaganda and influence operations.
Asked about its cooperation with an intelligence front, CSIS spokesman Andrew Schwartz said the think tank “meets with CICIR on a range of security issues.”
The two entities agreed two years ago to meet regularly on cybersecurity, he said.
“It’s a typical think tank roundtable-type setting - a seminarlike event, where we brief on U.S. policy, they brief on China’s policy and then we talk about specifics, like law enforcement cooperation,” he said.
“We briefed them, for example, on the U.S. international strategy and the [Defense Department] cyber strategy that came out last year. They briefed us on their Code of Conduct proposal. The U.S. government is fully posted on what happens.”
Mr. Schwartz described the cyber exercises as “very arms controlly” with a focus on confidence-building measures.
CSIS’ China specialists include Bonnie Glaser, who has a long history of cooperating with CICIR during years as a CIA consultant.
The center recently hired Christopher K. Johnson, who during his years as a CIA China analyst was considered among the most assertive of the so-called “benign China” school of intelligence and policy officials who has sought to play down China’s military buildup, arms-proliferation activities and human rights abuses.