A pretrial hearing in the Sept. 11 war crimes case started Thursday with an angry outburst from one of the defendants complaining about searches of his cell and the confiscation of his personal papers by guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Walid bin Attash stood up to address the court about the searches. The military judge, Army Col. James Pohl, cut him off and told him to sit down.
"In the name of God, there is an important thing for you," he began as Pohl interrupted, telling the defendant's lawyers that the only way bin Attash could address the court would be to testify from the witness stand.
"I'm not here to testify," replied bin Attash, who wore a flowing white robe and has a prosthetic leg because he lost a limb fighting in Afghanistan.
Pohl, who has allowed the defendants to speak in court in previous court appearances, halted bin Attash with a stern warning to defense attorney Cheryl Bormann. "I'm going to tell your client one more time to sit down or he will be taken out of the courtroom."
Bormann told the judge that her client was upset because guards had searched his cell while he was in court and took personal papers that he keeps in a bin for legal mail.
A prison official later testified that documents and books were taken from four of the defendants over the past week during security inspections, though some of the material was later deemed permissible and would be returned.
The judge is considering competing proposals from the defense and prosecution for rules for prison legal mail intended to allow the men to cooperate in their defense amid the extreme security of the prison unit in which they are held at Guantanamo.
Bin Attash, a native of Yemen who grew up in Saudi Arabia and is accused of providing logistical assistance to the Sept. 11 hijackers, sat down as members of his defense team appeared to calm him down.
The outburst came on the last of four days of pretrial motions hearings. The five defendants are being tried by a tribunal for wartime offenses known as a military commission. They face charges that include murder and terrorism for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and could get the death penalty if convicted. Their trial is likely more than a year away as the defense and prosecutors duel over a wide range of preliminary legal issues.
The May 2012 arraignment in the long-stalled war crimes case was an unruly 13-hour spectacle, drawn out as the defendants refused to use the court translation system, ignored the judge and stood up to pray in court. The defendants sat out portions of this week's session. When they were in court, they remained largely silent. The lead defendant, self-professed terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, sat quietly at his defense table, wearing a military-style camouflage vest over his white robe.
This week's hearings largely dealt with fears by members of the five defense teams that the U.S. government has been eavesdropping on their private conversations, violating the core legal principal of attorney-client privilege.
Military officials confirmed that meeting rooms used by the attorneys have microphones apparently disguised to look like smoke detectors. They said, however, that the devices have no recording capability and have not been used to monitor private meetings that prisoners have with their lawyers or the Red Cross. Prosecutors agreed on Thursday to disconnect the devices.
Bormann and Mohammed attorney David Nevin said the defense is continuing to investigate whether there has been any eavesdropping, which they said undermines their ability to represent their clients and under some circumstances could be illegal.
The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen Mark Martins, said that after looking into the matter and hearing this week's testimony he is confident that there wasn't any monitoring of the attorney's conversations with the defendants. "It's not happening and we can go forward," he told reporters after the hearing adjourned.
The tribunal is scheduled to reconvene on April 22.