A defiant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed chanted holy verses in Arabic, railed against President George W. Bush for his “crusader” wars and declared his wish to become a “martyr” during a raucus military tribunal hearing convened today to begin the process of trying him as the mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks.
“It’s an inquisition, not a trial!” proclaimed Mohammed in a tense, tightly guarded courtroom. “We under five years were under torture. We don’t have rights to anything. After all this torturing, they transfer us to inquisitionland in Guantánamo.”
The proceedings here offered the first public glimpse of the 43-year-old who U.S. officials accuse of conceiving and executing the most deadly crime in American history. But the contentious start this morning only underscored the difficulties the Pentagon is expected to encounter in putting Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators on trial—a case that has become a top priority for the Bush administration.
The proceeding today is technically only an arraignment—a formal reading of the charges against the five co-defendants. But it comes amid intense controversy over the legitimacy and fairness of the military tribunal system.
If anything, Mohammed’s demeanor and frequent outbursts confirmed what some U.S. officials have long feared about any attempt to bring him to trial: that the accused master terrorist will use the proceedings as a platform to denounce the United States and espouse the radical views of Al Qaeda to the world. Indeed, Mohammed, sporting a massive white and gray beard and dressed in a white tunic and turban, proved a commanding figure in the courtroom. He sparred repeatedly with the judge, Ralph Kohlmann. When Kohlmann asked him if he was willing to accept the military and civilian lawyers appointed for him, Mohammed rose and began chanting Koranic verses.
He then declared, in a surprisingly high-pitched voice, speaking halting but clear English, “I cannot accept any attorney who is not governed by sharia [Islamic] law. I will represent myself. I will not be represented by anybody even if he is a Muslim, because he will be sworn to your American Constitution. I consider all the U.S. Constitution and laws evil. They are allowing for same-sexual marriages and many things that are very bad … Do you understand what I said?”