Inmate loses bid to call 9/11 mastermind as witness

Wed Dec 5, 2007 9:00pm EST
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By David Alexander

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Lawyers for Osama bin Laden's former $200-a-month driver lost a bid on Wednesday to call September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to testify about whether their client is an al Qaeda member subject to trial by U.S. military tribunals.

A military judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, rejected the effort to gain access to Mohammed and other suspected senior members of al Qaeda at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. He said the defense had waited too long to request them, given the tight security measures under which they are being held.

The motion came in a hearing to determine whether Salim Ahmed Hamdan is an unlawful enemy combatant and can be tried by U.S. military tribunals established by Congress in 2006 to hold war crimes trials for people captured in President George W. Bush's war on terrorism.

"You should have started the process of getting the witnesses much earlier," Allred said in rejecting most of the 10 requests in a motion the judge said was filed on Tuesday evening.

The defense had also sought access to Ramzi Binalshibh, who is suspected of having been involved in the September 11 plotting, and Abu Farj al Libi, a suspected al Qaeda military commander. The judge did grant the defense access to a detainee from Yemen Hamdan's lawyers said had known Hamdan.

"(He) knew our client, knew he was only a driver, was aware there were many around bin Laden who were not members of al Qaeda," defense lawyer Charles Swift told the judge.

The defense also requested a hearing on whether Hamdan should be considered a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions, which would give him the right to trial by a military court-martial rather than the new military commissions process.

Allred agreed to hear testimony on the issue this week but said he would not make a decision until later on whether Hamdan should be considered for prisoner-of-war status.   Continued...