"It's an inquisition, not a trial"

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, puts on quite a show at his arraignment in Guant

Published June 5, 2008 8:24PM (EDT)

The trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got off to a tumultuous start today; the court didn't even manage to complete his arraignment before a recalcitrant Mohammed dismissed his attorneys and told the court he wants to be put to death so he can become a martyr.

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report for Newsweek that Mohammed frequently sparred with the judge presiding over the case, Ralph Kohlmann, a Marine colonel. Mohammed chanted verses from the Quran and then refused the military and civilian lawyers appointed to represent him, saying, "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?"

When Kohlmann asked Mohammed -- who has said he was "responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z" -- whether he understood that he could face the death penalty if he's found guilty, Mohammed responded: "Yes, this is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time ... I will, God willing, have this, by you."

According to Isikoff and Hosenball, Mohammed seemed intent on "dominat[ing] the proceedings." During a lunch break, he even instructed a courtroom artist to change the way his nose appeared in an official sketch. Writing for the AP, Andrew O. Selsky said that "Mohammed seemed noticeably thinner in his first appearance since his capture in Pakistan in 2003."

Describing Guantánamo Bay as "inquisition-land," Mohammed said he has been tortured during the five years he has been in U.S. custody. The Bush administration has admitted that CIA officals "waterboarded" Mohammed during his interrogations. The use of such extreme tactics have led many human rights organizations to call into question the veracity of Mohammed's 2007 confession.

The prosecution of Mohammed and four co-conspirators for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks is the most significant test yet of the military tribunal system instituted by the Bush administration. The military commissions were implemented after the Supreme Court ruled the administration could not hold terror detainees indefinitely. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the current system sometime this month.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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