New judge says 9/11 trial at Gitmo is ‘at least one year away’

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The new judge hearing the case against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said the trial won't start for at least a year — pushing the Guantanamo Bay proceeding beyond the 21st anniversary of the deadly al Qaeda attacks , which killed nearly 3,000.

The new timeline means the 57-year-old terror suspect, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, will likely spend two decades in the military lockup before his trial concludes. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

“At a bare minimum, we are at least one year away from trial,” Air Force Col. Matthew McCall said Monday, according to unofficial transcripts published by the military commissions. “I will ensure that I am fully apprised of the procedural history and the background of any motion … prior to any ruling. I am not bound by any particular timeline to get to trial.”

McCall, who took over the case last week, is the fourth judge to preside over the 9/11 hearings for KSM and four co-defendants. The lead defendant's attorney argued Friday for the ouster of the new judge as legal teams clashed over what went on at CIA black sites and key questions about alleged torture and confessions remain unresolved. McCall served a short stint as the judge last year before he was temporarily removed.

Gary Sowards, who previously represented the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and now represents Mohammed, said McCall has shown a lack of impartiality. The U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, which oversees the island war court, handed down a ruling last week affirming McCall's role.

Mohammed, described as  “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” in the 9/11 Commission Report, was a close ally of Osama bin Laden and is being tried alongside four co-defendants: Ammar Baluchi, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin Shibh, and Mustafa Hawsawi.

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The long-awaited trial could put CIA “enhanced interrogation” tactics in the spotlight. KSM was reportedly waterboarded more than 180 times.

“We're just past the 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, and consistently in these proceedings, both inside the hearing room and outside, the government has blamed the defense for the delay,” said Rita Radostitz, a lawyer on KSM's team. “And it's frustrating to hear that all the time, because the vast majority of the delay in this case has been caused by the government's decision to spend more than three years torturing Mr. Mohammad in black sites around the world.”

Alka Pradhan, a defense lawyer for al Baluchi, said that “information pertaining to their conditions of confinement and their torture should be declassified.”

Maj. Jackson Hall, a member of the prosecution, said all evidence relevant to the trial has been shared with the defense teams.

“The idea that there's going to be evidence presented in this case from the prosecution that the accused has not seen or has not had is wrong,” Hall said. “There is not going to be any evidence of that. We're already 99%, if not more, complete with either declassifying or providing the evidence the prosecution is going to use affirmatively.”

In the two decades  since the attacks, the five men believed to be responsible for the planning and execution of the plot have yet to stand trial . The key unresolved question is the admissibility of confessions obtained by the FBI after the CIA subjected them to “enhanced interrogation techniques” — called “torture” by some.

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Robert Swann, a retired Army Colonel and lead prosecutor, said FBI special agent Frank Pellegrino will give powerful testimony at Gitmo about his January 2007 questioning of KSM, and Swann called Pellegrino “a man, quite frankly, who knows everything about Mohammed.”

Swann said that the prosecution has given the defense “interview notes” from that KSM interrogation, which include information on how he selected the hijackers and arranged for their training.

“Frank Pellegrino will talk to us about that from the witness stand,” Swann said. “This is not a piece of paper that's going to go in front of the members. The testimony of the witnesses on that issue would do that.”

Swann added that he put the chances of Mohammad taking that witness stand at “slim to none.”

“Should he, we'll be ready for it,” Swann added.





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