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Let us talk to Sept 11 planner, U.S. lawyers ask

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By Jane Sutton Fri Feb 8, 4:43 PM ET

Guantánamo BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) – Military lawyers defending
Osama bin Laden’s former driver on terrorism charges in the U.S. war court at
Guantánamo Bay have offered a compromise in their quest to interview September
11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

They promised not to ask Mohammed about his treatment in U.S. custody or about
the CIA’s admission that it subjected him to a simulated drowning technique
known as "waterboarding" during interrogations.

Bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was captured in Afghanistan
in November 2001 and faces life in prison if convicted in the Guantánamo court
of conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support for terrorism.

The Yemeni man said he never joined al Qaeda, had no advance knowledge of its
attacks and became bin Laden’s driver in Afghanistan because he needed the salary
of $200 per month.

Hamdan’s lawyers said Mohammed — the highest-ranking al Qaeda leader held
at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — can help their defense by
telling them what role, if any, Hamdan had in the organization.

They likened it to somebody "on trial for organized crime and you’ve got
the opportunity to bring in the godfather."

The request was still pending when a pretrial hearing ended on Thursday but
the military judge suggested he might at least let the lawyers question Mohammed
via written notes.

The judge is expected to rule in the next couple of weeks and Hamdan is scheduled
to go to trial in May. So far, only one captive — an Australian man — has
been convicted by the widely criticized court and that was in a plea bargain.


Prosecutors said Mohammed, accused of masterminding the attacks on the United
States by al Qaeda militants on September 11, 2001, was too dangerous an enemy
in an ongoing war to allow defense lawyers to go on "a fishing expedition."

"The defense is asking for access to some of the most notorious terrorists
the world has ever seen," said one of the prosecutors, Air Force Lt. Col.
William Britt.

There was a risk of endangering U.S. agents if Mohammed revealed to the defense
lawyers the sources and methods the government used to get information from
him, prosecutors said.

The CIA has acknowledged using waterboarding, which critics say is a form of
illegal torture, on Mohammed and two other senior al Qaeda leaders who were
later sent to Guantánamo.

The defense lawyers, one of whom has top clearance to view government secrets,
said they disapproved of waterboarding but would not ask Mohammed about it or
about anything that occurred after the September 11 attacks.

Mohammed is one of 15 "high-value" al Qaeda prisoners held separately
from the other 260 non-U.S. captives at Guantánamo in a facility whose location
is kept secret even from the officers who run the other detention camps.

Prosecutors also objected to defense requests to question six other high-value

"Equally wrapped up in secret tape, eh?" asked the judge, Navy Capt.
Keith Allred.

He said the defense had shown adequate need to question Mohammed and suggested
they conduct the interview via written questions and answers, which the prosecutors
also opposed.

The United States set up the Guantánamo tribunals to try suspected terrorists
after the September 11 attacks but so far, none of the handful of prisoners
facing charges has been accused of direct involvement in the attacks.

No defense lawyer has been allowed access to the high-value group, which was
brought to Guantánamo in 2006 after about three years in secret CIA custody.

One of Hamdan’s lawyers, retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, said that raised
a crucial question about U.S. plans to try those important figures.

"Who is going to represent Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and when will his trial
be?" Swift said. (Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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