So the preliminaries to the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-accused have finally begun in Guantanamo Bay. By all accounts the first day- Saturday - was a farce. The prisoners, one of whom was shackled to his chair when first brought into court, talked amongst themselves, generally ignored the court and in a departure from their previous appearances at a military tribunal - the first time they were put on trial at Guantanamo - declined to plead guilty.
Ramzi Binalshibh, who is generally regarded to be insane, spent time praying and comparing himself to the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, while KSM himself, like a true Bond villain, stroked his beard and removed the headphones that were piping an Arabic translation of the proceedings to him. Several of the accused read The Economist as they sat in the dock in white robes.
What the relatives of those killed during the 9/11 attacks made of all this is hard to know. Several of them, who had been chosen in a lottery, were present in the courtroom.
This is the third attempted trial for the men. The first military tribunal, at which the defendants said they were happy to accept responsibility, was abandoned in 2008. The second, scheduled to take place in a civilian court in Manhattan, never got started after members of the US Congress passed a special law to prevent it taking place. The present military tribunal brings no credit to the US legal authorities, who have lost the opportunity to demonstrate the power of democratic justice to the world.
The trial itself is unlikely to start until next year and will last for years. It should be remembered that the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called twentieth hijacker, took four years to complete. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006.
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