SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Defense lawyers accused the government of rushing Sept. 11 defendants to trial at Guantanamo to influence the U.S. presidential elections, and asked the military judge to dismiss the case in a court filing obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.
Military lawyers for alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four codefendants revealed that prosecutors were seeking a Sept. 15 trial date, "some seven weeks before the general election."
The five men accused of mounting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people are to be arraigned Thursday at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - the most high-profile of the military commissions, as the war-crimes proceedings are called.
"It is safe to say that there are senior officials in the military-commission process who believe that there would be strategic political value to having these five men sitting in a death chamber on Nov. 4, 2008," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, one of the attorneys, referring to the date of the presidential elections.
The filing also includes documents showing that the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, who quit in October over alleged political interference, was punished by the military on May 23 after testifying for the defense in a Guantanamo hearing.
The former prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, wrote that the action would discourage other military members from providing information about the war-crimes tribunals.
Documents attached to the new filing showed the military acted against Davis less than a month after his testimony, saying he had served dishonorably and would be denied a medal for his more than two years as prosecutor.
Davis recently testified that while he was chief prosecutor, "there was that consistent theme that if we don't get these [trials] rolling before the election, this thing is going to implode, and if you get the 9/11 guys charged, it would be hard . . . for whoever wins the White House to stop the process."
The tribunals' legal adviser, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, denied there had been political pressure.
"It has not existed at all," Hartmann told the Associated Press. "I say that absolutely, without equivocation."
But at an April 28 hearing for Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Davis testified that Hartmann pushed to pursue "sexy" cases over less dramatic ones.
The military judge presiding over Hamdan's case subsequently ordered Hartmann's removal as legal adviser in that proceeding.