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By Jane Sutton April 18, 2008
The U.S. military will televise the Guantanamo trial of accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five other suspects so relatives of those killed in the attacks can watch on the U.S. mainland.
"We're going to broadcast in real time to several locations that will be available just to victim families," Army Col. Lawrence Morris, chief prosecutor for the controversial war crimes court, said at the naval base recently.
In February, military prosecutors charged Mohammed and five other captives with murder and conspiracy and asked that they be executed if convicted of plotting to crash hijacked planes into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.
No trial date has been set but they are the first Guantanamo prisoners charged with direct involvement in the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Morris said several of the victims' relatives asked to watch the trials at the detention center set up in Guantanamo Bay naval base to try foreign terrorism suspects.
The base sits on a dusty patch of the island of Cuba and does not have many flights, beds or courtroom seats to accommodate spectators.
The trials will be beamed to closed-circuit television viewing sites on military bases at Fort Hamilton in New York, Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Fort Meade in Maryland and Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Morris said.
The military is borrowing a page from the civilian court sentencing hearing of Zacarias Moussaoui, a flight school student who is the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the September 11 plot. He pleaded guilty to conspiring with al Qaeda and was sentenced to life in prison.
U.S. federal courts normally ban cameras. But through an act of Congress, Moussaoui's 2006 court hearing in Virginia was shown by closed-circuit television to victims' families at courthouses in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
"We got much more information from those hearings than we ever got from the 9-11 Commission," said Lorie Van Auken, whose husband Kenneth died in the World Trade Center, referring to the investigation the U.S. Congress launched into the attacks.
FAIR TRIALS OR SHOW TRIALS?
Some of the victims' relatives praised the U.S. military for ensuring they had access to the Guantanamo proceedings. Hamilton Peterson, whose father and stepmother, Donald and Jean Peterson, died on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, called the prosecutors "true patriots," and said he was grateful for "the ability to see justice being fulfilled in one of the most significant attacks on America's heartland." Others urged the trials be televised nationwide without restriction because of the sweeping impact of the attacks.
The broadcasts will mark the first time a Guantanamo detainee's face has been shown publicly. The U.S. military prohibits journalists and other visitors from taking photographs or video that shows faces, citing a provision of the Geneva Conventions that aims to protect war captives from "insults and public curiosity."
The U.S. military lawyer assigned to defend Mohammed, Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, said if the trials are truly fair, then broadcasting them widely would prove that to the world. But he worried about setting a precedent by televising what he suspects will be show trials.
"I can just imagine American soldiers and sailors and airmen being subjected to similar show trials worldwide," He said he doubts the defendants can get a fair trial in the Guantanamo court because it accepts hearsay evidence that may have been obtained through cruel and dehumanizing means. The Geneva provision cited in shielding prisoners' faces also bans "acts of violence or intimidation," he noted.
The CIA held Mohammed in a secret prison for years and acknowledged interrogating him with methods that included the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
Some of the victims' relatives also said they thought the trials should be held in a regular court, open to the public and using only "evidence that's above reproach."
"This is not about revenge, it's about justice," said Valerie Lucznikowska, a New Yorker whose nephew Adam Arias died in the World Trade Center. "I don't want it to be a lynching. I'm concerned that people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we won't be able to find them guilty because of what we've done with them. It's a horrible conundrum."