Washington: They are slow, expensive and messy; and more than 13 years after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the Guantanamo Bay proceedings leading to trial for alleged co-conspirators continue to face hurdles.
Pre-trial hearings were delayed again recently after defendants identified a court interpreter who worked in one of the United States` notorious CIA torture prisons.
The Guantanamo Bay court recessed on Thursday, until April 20, after a few hours of hearings all week.
It`s hard to imagine things moving more slowly, given the behavior of the defense teams, prosecutors and the military judge overseeing the proceedings against five defendants since May 2012.
Dozens of motions remain before the court that need to be addressed before moving to a trial.
Court watchers and relatives of people killed in the worst terror attack on US soil are frustrated amid the sea of procedural motions and sudden interruptions, without the real case at hand being taken up.
The head of the Office of Military Commissions, Vaughn Ary, said that in 2014 there had been only 33 days of hearings.
That broke down to 107 hours and 50 minutes before the court in Guantanamo to address four cases including the September 11 attacks, according to a memo obtained by the Miami Herald.
The cost is significant: $78 million in fiscal 2014, or $7,647 per minute, not including the wages of 153 military personnel who work at the US base in Cuba, according to the memo dated December 9.
“I believe the status quo does not support the pace of litigation necessary to bring these cases to a just conclusion,” retired general Ary wrote in the memo.
No date has been set for the 9/11 trial, and another wrench was thrown into the works this week.
On Monday, two of the five defendants said that a court interpreter at the hearings had worked at a secret CIA prison where they had been interrogated and tortured.
This new session, the first after a six month pause, was immediately suspended for 48 hours. “I ask you to stop until we can go to the bottom of this,” lawyer David Nevin said on Wednesday.
Nevin, who represents alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said the government has acknowledged the interpreter was a CIA employee.
“It`s not a new issue,” defense attorney Cheryl Bormann said, adding that there is “keen interest in history of governmental interference.”
“This has so decimated any trust … on this team, we can`t go forward,” she said.
The proceedings were broadcast to journalists via a closed-circuit video feed at the Fort Meade military installation in Maryland.
The defense claims to have documented numerous cases of the government meddling in the legal process, possibly violating the defendants` rights to a fair trial.
Microphones have been concealed in smoke detectors, and an FBI agent has infiltrated defense teams, the lawyers claimed.
The alleged violations have triggered days of debate.
“Today the government is doing something that we`ve never seen in three years. It asks for a closed hearing to both the public and the defense teams,” said attorney James Connell, protesting against what he called a violation of the rights of defendants and the rules of military courts.
There are still 48 motions to examine, and they keep coming.
“We`re all here, we are in accelerated time, why not get that done,” chief prosecutor Mark Martins said.
As the discussion was ongoing, the judge activated the so called red light which scrambles the audio of debates for those outside the courtroom.
“You made a statement that was very close to being classified,” Pohl said to Nevin.
“The government has classified virtually every fact,” Connell said later.