July 17, 2009 / 1:00 AM / 8 years ago

Keep Guantanamo open, September 11 families say

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Nine relatives of September 11 victims witnessed the controversial Guantanamo war court in action on Thursday and called on U.S. President Barack Obama to keep the remote detention camp and war crimes trials open.

<p>In this photo of a sketch by a courtroom artist, and reviewed by the U.S. military, family members of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, (R) observe courtroom proceedings during hearings for the five alleged September 11 co-conspirators, inside the courthouse at the Camp Justice compound for the U.S. war crimes commission, at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, July 16, 2009. REUTERS/Janet Hamlin/Pool</p>

The family members, brought to the U.S. military base in Cuba by the Pentagon, saw three of the five men accused of plotting the 2001 hijacked airliner attacks face the court set up by former President George W. Bush to try suspects in his war on terrorism.

But they did not see the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who boycotted the session.

The relatives toured the U.S. Navy base but were not allowed into the detention camps. They met with guards and praised their work, as well as the operation of the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War II.

Critics call the Guantanamo detention camps a stain on America’s human rights reputation and the tribunals a miscarriage of justice.

“I have nothing to gain other than to tell you people, we need this camp. We absolutely need this camp,” said Gary Reiss of Yardley, Pennsylvania, whose son Joshua, a 23-year-old bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, died in the World Trade Center.

“Please keep Guantanamo Bay open and the commission hearings continuing,” added his wife, Judith. “You must pursue justice for the 3,000 victims of 9-11 and I ask this in my son Joshua’s memory.”

Pentagon officials said the nine were chosen randomly by a computer from a list of relatives who wanted to attend.

Obama halted Guantanamo prosecutions by executive order soon after his inauguration and ordered the detention camps closed by next January.

“Our government’s current executive order to halt the military commissions makes us look foolish and weak and invites more attacks,” said Melissa Long, whose boyfriend died in the attacks.

MENTAL COMPETENCY HEARING

The five alleged September 11 conspirators disrupted and delayed the war court when they refused to leave their cells for the hearing.

Mohammed and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, both Pakistanis, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a Saudi, and Yemenis Ramzi Binalshibh and Walid bin Attash, could face the death penalty if convicted of murder, conspiracy, terrorism and other charges.

Thursday’s hearing dealt with the mental competency of Binalshibh and al-Hawsawi.

The boycott stalled proceedings for more than two hours before bin Attash, al-Hawsawi and Aziz Ali finally were brought to the high-security courtroom. But al-Hawsawi soon demanded to leave after complaining he would not be allowed to speak.

Binalshibh’s lawyer, Navy Commander Suzanne Lachelier, asked the court to allow a defense consultant to examine CT scans of her client’s brain. She said Binalshibh has been diagnosed with “delusional disorder.”

Defense court filings said doctors prescribed psychotropic drugs used to treat schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

A court censor cut off Lachelier when she began talking about Binalshibh’s complaints that he had been subjected to sleep deprivation, which critics say is an abusive technique used to soften prisoners for interrogation.

“The government can’t hide the fact that they used sleep deprivation,” Lachelier said before the audio feed to observers and reporters outside the courtroom was cut off.

The audio is on a 40-second delay that allows a security officer to hit a button to block material believed to be classified.

Prosecutor Clayton Trivett later said Binalshibh’s complaints of sleep deprivation could be explained by the diagnosis that he suffers from delusions.

Binalshibh has accused guards of pumping foul smells and loud noises into his cell and “vibrating his bed” to keep him awake, Trivett said. “The government’s position is that it’s not happening and it’s never been happening,” Trivett said.

Editing by Todd Eastham

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