GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- The self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks repeatedly declined to respond to a judge's questions Saturday and his co-defendant was briefly restrained at a military hearing as five men charged with the worst terror attack in U.S. history appeared in public for the first time in more than three years.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants appeared for arraignment at a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay on charges that include 2,976 counts of murder for the 2001 attacks.
The hearing quickly bogged down before they could be arraigned as the men engaged in what appeared to be a concerted silent protest against the proceedings.
Mohammed and his co-defendants took off the earphones that provide Arabic translations and refused to answer any questions from the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, dramatically slowing a hearing that is heavy on military legal procedure.
At one point, two of the men got up and prayed alongside their defense tables under the watchful eyes of troops arrayed along the sides of the high-security courtroom on the U.S. base in Cuba.
Prisoner Walid bin Attash was put in a restraint chair for unspecified reasons and then removed from it after he agreed to behave; and lawyers for all defendants complained that the prisoners were prevented from wearing the civilian clothes of their choice.
Mohammed wore a white turban in court; his flowing beard, which had appeared to be graying in earlier hearings and photos, was streaked with red henna.
Mohammed's civilian lawyer, David Nevin, said he believed Mohammed was not responding because he believes the tribunal is unfair.
Jim Harrington, a civilian attorney for Yemeni defendant Ramzi Binalshibh, said his client would not respond to questions "without addressing the issues of confinement." No further explanation was given.
Pohl warned he would not permit defendants to block the hearing and would continue without his participation.
"One cannot choose not to participate and frustrate the normal course of business," Pohl said.
He addressed the earpiece issue by bringing the translators into the courtroom to translate out loud and attempted to stick to the standard script for tribunals, asking the defendants if they understood their rights to counsel and would accept the attorneys appointed for them. The men did not respond, not even to acknowledge that they understood the questions.
In the past, during the failed first effort to prosecute them at the U.S. base in Cuba, Mohammed has mocked the tribunal and said he and his co-defendants would plead guilty and welcome execution. But there were signs that at least some of the defense teams were preparing for a lengthy fight, planning challenges of the military tribunals and the secrecy that shrouds the case.
The arraignment is "only the beginning of a trial that will take years to complete, followed by years of appellate review," attorney James Connell, who represents defendant Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, told reporters gathered at the base to observe the hearing.
"I can't imagine any scenario where this thing gets wrapped up in six months," Connell said.
Defendants in what is known as a military commission typically do not enter a plea during their arraignment. Instead, the judge reads the charges, makes sure the accused understand their rights and then moves on to procedural issues. Lawyers for the men said they were prohibited by secrecy rules from disclosing the intentions of their clients.