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Military to show Guantanamo proceedings at 4 U.S. bases

This news story was published on April 29, 2012.
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By Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy Newspapers –

MIAMI — Firefighters and cops who raced to the burning trade World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, will watch in one room at a Brooklyn Army post, while 9/11 victims will watch from another. Media, family members and members of the public can watch on three separate screens at Fort Meade in Maryland.

For next week’s unusual Saturday military commissions arraignment at Guantanamo of five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon has put four U.S. military bases into service — all on the East Coast.

Friday, the Pentagon published an order by Army Col. James L. Pohl, the chief of the Guantanamo war court, to open viewing sites for the May 5 arraignment “due to the serious nature of the crimes alleged and the historic nature of military commissions.”

In it, Pohl authorized a total of eight viewing sites set up for different categories of spectators authorized to watch via closed-circuit TV feed when Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged 9/11 accomplices are brought into the Guantanamo court.

All five are accused of organizing, training and funneling funds to the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, and could face the death penalty if convicted at trial.

Two of the sites won’t be ready in time, so the viewings break down this way:

—Properly credentialed family members who lost relatives in the 9/11 attacks can watch at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst in New Jersey and Fort Meade in Maryland. Those with credentials signed up through website notices to 9/11 families and have already been vetted. (Five 9/11 family members will to travel to Guantanamo, each with a companion, to watch from a spectator gallery. The Defense Department chose them by lottery, though they have not been publicly identified.)

—Reporters who signed up with the Pentagon Office of Public Affairs can watch at Fort Meade, the site closest to the Pentagon, on a separate screen than the one provided for victims. The judge approved a second media viewing site at an unspecified “Executive Branch Federal Building” in Washington, D.C. But a government official said Friday that the Washington site has not been set up. (The Pentagon also is providing seats in the courtroom at Guantanamo and a closed-circuit feed to 60 reporters and support staff at Guantanamo’s court compound, Camp Justice.)

—First responders get their own screen. New York police, firefighters and other emergency workers who raced to the burning World Trade Center on 9/11, but didn’t lose relatives, don’t meet the Pentagon’s definition of victim family members. So Pohl approved the establishment of a separate screening site in Manhattan.

It’s still being set up, said Fort Hamilton’s spokeswoman, Alison Kohler. In the meantime, they’ll get a separate screen at Fort Hamilton, in a “multi-purpose-room” that can seat 460 people and accommodate 150 more in overflow space. Victim families will get the base auditorium that seats 500.

Fort Hamilton is an active military base, Kohler noted, adding that all visitors and their vehicles will be searched. It’s also home to a special anti-terror unit, called a Civil Support Team.

Some of the Pentagon-paid lawyers who’ve been assigned to defend the five men are arguing for even greater transparency of the actual trial.

“We want it on C-SPAN,” defense attorney James Connell III said from Guantanamo, where he’s filing motions on behalf of Mohammed’s nephew, who is accused as a conspirator in the attacks for wiring money to some of the 9/11 hijackers.

Wider viewership, Connell argued, might gain more understanding of the diverse roles that the five accused allegedly played in the attacks. In the case of Connell’s client, who’s known as Ammar al Baluchi, “I think if people understand more about him, they’d be less likely to say ‘Hey this low-level guy deserves the death penalty.’ ”

Attorney General Eric Holder had first decided to hold the 9/11 trial in Manhattan, with a civilian jury hearing the case at the U.S. District Court. Congress blocked that plan through legislation. Holder ultimately authorized the Defense Department to hold the trial by military commission, a jury of U.S. military officers.

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