The latest pre-trial hearing for the five men accused of planning 9/11 came to a close this Friday, with defense attorneys putting special focus on the ways in which US government continues to delay the progression of the trial.
Pre-trial arguments have been going on for over six years; and each of the accused has been in American custody for more than 15 years.
In the midst of several dense legal motions and hours of detailed litigation, a somewhat unexpected issue came to the forefront of the proceedings: US President Donald Trump’s twitter account.
During Thursday’s open court session, the defense team of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (alleged to have pitched the 9/11 attacks to Osama Bin Laden himself), argued that Trump’s inflammatory tweets and comments create unlawful influence in court.
Lead defense attorney for Mohammed, David Nevin, urged the military judge that aggravated remarks from the president make the trial process inherently unfair.
“There are a lot of people trying to influence this military commission,” Nevin told the judge, “in this case, it's the President.”
Nevin referred to comments made by the US President following the October 2017 truck attack in New York City. The President, Nevins explained, allegedly criticized the current process in place for trying alleged terrorists as too slow and too lenient.
NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2017
This is not the first time that Nevin has urged the judge to consider the effects of unlawful influence in the war court. Additionally, Trump has made several speculative comments on Guantanamo and the war on terror since entering office.
Back in March of 2017, the White House even had to issue a correction on one of Trump’s tweets regarding Guantanamo. The President had claimed that 122 detainees released during the Obama administration had returned to the battlefield.
In fact, only 8 Obama-era releases had allegedly re-engaged. Meanwhile, 113 Bush-era Guantanamo releases had re-engaged, according to a concurrent report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
Nevin went on to argue that the case should be dismissed altogether, due to the inherent inability of the war court to proceed without influence. If nothing else, Nevin argued, the death penalty should be taken off the table.
In addition to Trump comments regarding Guantanamo, Nevin also cited one of Trump’s remarks criticizing the war court system, the US Office of Military Commissions, as an institution.
The military commission’s judge presiding over this case, Army Colonel James Pohl, did not take kindly to this criticism. When prosecution attorney Bob Swann took the stand on behalf of the United States, Judge Pohl seemed unconvinced.
The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
Swann defended Trump’s comments, saying that although the President’s criticism of another military commissions judge was inappropriate, not much can be done about it.
“There are going to be other comments made after today,” Swann said, “I’m convinced of that. That’s just the way things [are].”
“Do we have to accept that, though?” Judge Pohl snapped back, cutting Swann off mid-sentence.
“How do we stop it, sir?” Swann urged, “That’s the question.”
“Oh, I got ways to stop it,” Judge Pohl said somewhat facetiously, causing both the courtroom and the observation gallery to erupt in laughter.
The back and forth continued for a few minutes as Judge Pohl urged Swann to focus on the legal implications at hand. However, as with most arguments in the military commissions, this one ended in uncertainty.
Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2017
Judge Pohl told Swann that regardless of how many comments Trump makes, it is the judge’s job to ensure that the court proceedings remain fair and without unlawful influence. It will likely be months before the judge makes any ruling on the influence of Trump’s comments.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others on trial in this case are currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, accused of plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The joint trial is currently in its sixth year of the preliminary pre-trial stage.
Mohammed and the other four high-value detainees were kidnapped and tortured by the CIA in the years following 9/11. They have been at Guantanamo ever since. No trial date has been set at this time.