Guantanamo Sick Bay
The five detainees accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks sat Monday with their lawyers in Guantanamo's specially-designed and windowless courtroom. They are ordered to appear court on the first day of the week's hearings so the military judge can inform them they have the right to not attend for the rest of the week.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind, known simply as KSM, gets the front spot. KSM, wears a green camouflage vest over his white robe, stroking his bright orange beard which he reportedly dyes with berries and juice from his breakfast tray.
KSM, born in Kuwait to Pakistani parents, reportedly wore that vest in Afghanistan as he fought against the Soviet occupation during the 1980's. His lawyer Army Maj. Jason Wright successfully fought for his right to wear it at trial, arguing that defendents at the World War II tribunals in Nuremberg wore military-style clothing.
The issue could be significant in legal arguments about Geneva Convention protections regarding armed groups that “have fixed distinctive emblems recognizable at a distance, such as uniforms.”
Walid bin Attash, who sits behind KSM, wears camouflage too, but his fatigues are desert brown. On Monday, he had diarrhea, the war court heard. He may have an ulcer or something more serious. It became a legal issue when his lawyer said he wasn't well enough to stay in court - and yet wanted to attend the hearing.
Bin Attash is accused of being an Al Qaeda camp instructor and personally selecting some of the 9/11 hijackers. He too wears camo, although his are desert browns.
In the back row sits Mustafa Ahmad al Hawsawi wearing a neck brace and sitting on a pillow. Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz said he had a "neck condition" and the medication he takes for the pain makes him drowsy. He looks frail - the other four robust.
Their attire - and medical conditions - were not the focus of Monday's hearings but they consumed much of the time. In Guantanamo's military commissions, every small detail seems to carry significance. Prosecutors subtly suggest to the judge that they believe these are defence stall tactics. Defence attorneys argue this is all part of a Gitmo trial - an accused has a right to be in court and an illness would normally lead to a delay, but like everything else, a delay becomes a logistical nightmare here.And so they sit, in uniforms akin to accused war criminals half a century ago, in hearings that their lawyers argue resemble nothing like Nuremberg.
Tuesday is day two of the fifth week of pretrial hearings since the five co-accused were indicted for 2,976 counts of murder for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The first order of business is the state of an alleged Al Qaeda leader's bowels.
Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm