Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind to appear at Guantanamo hearing

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks, and other alleged terrorists linked to major attacks against the U.S. are expected to face hearings at the Guantanamo prison camp within three months, a military official said Wednesday.

Fourteen “high-value” detainees, including the alleged plotter of the USS Cole bombing and the alleged coordinator of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, will be invited to appear at hearings, held to determine whether they’re enemy combatants, said Navy Capt. Phil Waddingham, director of the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants.

If Mohammed appears, it would mark the first time he has been seen since he was captured more than three years ago in Pakistan. Detainees can refuse to appear but the tribunals, held in small rooms inside a prefab building here, will be held regardless, Waddingham told reporters.

Mohammed and the 13 other top alleged terrorists were recently transferred from CIA custody to this isolated U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Army Brig. Gen. Edward A. Leacock, the deputy commander of Guantanamo, said the 14 new detainees are being treated humanely. Authorities have said they are being held in a maximum-security area but Leacock refused to say precisely where.

“They’re all adapting well to their new environment,” Leacock said in an interview with reporters here, adding that they’re fed three times a day, have recreational opportunities and have opportunities to pray five times per day.

They have been given materials to write letters, which after they are censored by the military will be given to the Red Cross for mailing, Leacock said. The Red Cross announced in Geneva Wednesday they will come to Guantanamo to visit the 14 new detainees next week.

Waddingham told reporters visiting Guantanamo that preparations were being made for the Combatant Status Review Tribunals for Mohammed and the other 13 detainees. They would be open to the press, he said.

“I am expecting the CSRTs to begin in two or three months,” he said.

Every one of the other roughly 450 detainees at Guantanamo, who began arriving in 2002, have already undergone the tribunals. The tribunals for the 14 new arrivals will be held almost certainly using the same procedures, Waddingham said.

The tribunals are conducted by a three-member military panel, which examines evidence against a detainee, can speak to witnesses, and determines if the detainee is an enemy combatant and should be held. The detainee is represented by U.S. military counsel.

Those judged not to be enemy combatants are generally transferred out of Guantanamo to their home countries. Those determined to be enemy combatants stay locked up here. They then face annual Administrative Review Boards that examine whether they still pose a threat to the United States or have intelligence value.

Congress and the Bush administration are currently working on guidelines on how detainees should be interrogated and put on trial. Ten Guantanamo detainees have been charged with crimes but their military trials were put on hold after the Supreme Court last June ruled that the tribunals were illegal, partly because Bush administration had set them up without Congressional approval.

Mohammed is believed to be the No. 3 al-Qaida leader before he was captured in Pakistan in 2003. Also among the 14 captives whom President Bush announced on Sept. 6 has been transferred to Guantanamo is Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be Sept. 11 hijacker; and Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida cells before he was captured in Pakistan in 2002.

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals will also be held for them, Waddingham said. The 14 terrorism suspects are undergoing “orientation” and not being interrogated, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock told a group of reporters at the Pentagon.

Craddock, who oversees U.S. military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean as commander of U.S. Southern Command, said estimated the 14 would be made available to the Red Cross around Oct. 1, but not before they completed their orientation.

In Geneva on Wednesday, the chief spokesman for the ICRC, Antonella Notari, said officials plan to arrive Sept. 25 for a scheduled two-week visit to Guantanamo. The ICRC is the only neutral agency with full access to Guantanamo detainees.

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