By Paul Courson, reporting from Ft. Meade, Maryland.
A question about whether al Qaeda suspects in the 2001 hijack attack on New York and Washington could still be tried in their absence caused some unexpected confusion at a hearing.
Defense lawyers argued that their clients, who are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, should not have to attend the hearing because it brings up memories of their harsh treatment by the Central Intelligence Agency. The military judge ruled that the men could decide each day whether they wish to attend but if they decline they must answer a series of questions about their rights.
The list that the judge, Army Capt. James Pohl, developed to address concerns when a detainee voluntarily waives his right to be present at trial, was agreed to by both defense and prosecution. But one of the questions, regarding their rights should the defendant be out of control of the U.S. military, caused considerable confusion.
The list was read to each of the detainees to measure their understanding.
It became the "escape" question when the judge refined the broader concept of not in U.S. custody with a hypothetical escape scenario.
Pohl: “And do you understand this commission can continue if you're not in custody?”
Ramzi Binalshibh (in English): "That is a very wide word. Can you be concrete?"
Pohl: “I'm not saying you're going to escape, but if for some reason you get out of military control, this trial could continue.”
Binalshibh: "Escaping?" There's a pause. Military members in the hearing room and standing along the walls are smiling. Finally, Binalshibh answers:
"Yes I do," he says.
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali ultimately answered that he understood the question.
"I'll be sure to leave a note when I go," Ali said.
The chief suspect, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, answered yes without hesitation.