FORT MEADE, Maryland — Charges should be dropped against five Guantanamo Bay detainees suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks because President Barack Obama and other leaders have made too many comments to ensure a fair trial, defense lawyers argued in a military court on Friday.
Lawyer Walter Ruiz said Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other high-ranking U.S. officials made “toxic comments over time” about the presumed guilt of Pakistan-born Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who took credit for organizing the hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
“The appearance of unlawful influence is squarely upon these commissions,” said Ruiz, who represents co-defendant Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a Saudi man accused of helping to orchestrate the attacks by Islamist militants.
During a 2007 hearing at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military prison in Cuba, Mohammed said he organized the attacks “from A to Z.”
Friday’s hearing was monitored by closed circuit television from a media center at Fort Meade, outside Washington.
Ruiz played previously televised clips of government officials’ remarks for Judge Army Col. James Pohl. In one interview, Obama said he expected Mohammed to be convicted and sentenced to death.
“There is no way to eliminate the taint,” said Marine Maj. Derek Poteet, a lawyer for Mohammed.
Defense attorneys said a remedy would be to dismiss the charges or try co-defendants in the death penalty case separately from Mohammed.
Prosecutor Robert Swann disagreed with defense arguments.
“Now there’s no dispute about what the president or others have said,” but it does not constitute unlawful influence, he said.
Swann said that government leaders made roughly 75 statements about the presumed guilt of the men over the last decade.
Pohl has not yet ruled on whether to keep in place a temporary order he issued in January that bars female guards from touching prisoners.
Pohl heard testimony this week on the order. It followed complaints from Muslim detainees that physical contact with women outside their immediate families violated their religious beliefs.
Republican lawmakers have accused Obama of arranging the exchange of five Guantanamo prisoners for accused Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl as part of his plan to close the prison.