The judge in the Guantanamo war crimes court is to decide this week whether to halt pretrial hearings in the September 11 case until next year so technicians can fix computer problems that defense lawyers say are stymieing their work.
Hearings resume on Monday in the slow-moving case against the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other alleged al Qaeda conspirators who could be executed if convicted of charges that include mass murder, terrorism and hijacking.
At a hearing that ended on August 23, defense lawyers said their emails and work files were vanishing and that prosecutors and defense lawyers had temporarily been given access to each other’s files.
Pentagon technicians were scheduled to testify this week about the extent of the problems and how much time and money it would take to fix. Technical advisors have said it would take at least three months, once a contract was signed and money allocated.
“Nothing has changed since the last hearing,” said Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, who represents Saudi defendant Mustafa al Hawsawi. “A lot of folks are tired of having to run out to the coffee shop to do their work.”
Because of doubts about the confidentiality of their Pentagon computer network, defense lawyers have been using personal laptops and public Wi-Fi to exchange draft documents among members of their legal teams.
Prosecutors suggested some of their concerns could be eliminated if the defense lawyers would encrypt their work. Other problems were traced to a switch in email servers and to an effort to create a mirrored system to synchronize the work the lawyers did in Washington and that done at the remote Guantanamo base.
Defense lawyers have asked the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, to halt the proceedings until the problems are fixed.
The defendants were captured in 2002 and 2003 and were first charged at Guantanamo in 2008. The tribunals and the charges were revised by the Obama administration and the defendants were arraigned on the current version in May 2012.
A week after the United States observed the 12th anniversary of the hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, the chief prosecutor, Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, said he sympathized with those who have grown frustrated that the trial still had not started. He said the case was complex and the court was methodically working its way through the litigation.
“I want this thing to move. Justice delayed at some point really is justice denied,” Martins told journalists at the Guantanamo base on Sunday. “I feel the impatience of those who want it to move faster. That said, we don’t want to rush to failure and we want to do justice, not set some sort of standard that’s based purely on speed.”