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Controversy at Guantanamo Trial

The Guantanamo Bay-based trial against those accused of plotting the September 11attacks looks set for a rocky start. Even though the trial hasn't yet begun, controversy at the pretrial is overshadowing the proceedings.

The defendants set to stand trial in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for masterminding and plotting the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States could skip a scheduled court hearing on Tuesday, following a controversial ruling by the presiding military judge.

The judge, Army Colonel James ruled that each defendant had the right not to attend their trial. He elaborated that each morning the defendants would be asked individually if they wished to attend court and whether they understood that proceedings could continue in their absence.

Pohl's decision comes a day after the accused attended a heated pre-trial hearing at a Guantanamo Bay courtroom. Although several motions were supposed to be covered during court on Monday, Pohl, was bogged down by arguments over whether the defendants could waive their right to attend the hearing.

"I don't think there is any justice in this court," one of the accused, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had said through a translator.

The defendants' lawyers, had pushed the court to let the accused skip the proceedings, a motion which the government prosecutor, General Mark Martins, had opposed. Martins had argued that, because the accused face the death penalty if found guilty, they should be required to attend trial.

A heated courtroom

Sparks had also flown in court on Monday over whether allegations of torture against the Guantanamo prisoners should be discussed in court. Pohl had angrily snapped at a defense lawyer when that lawyer raised the question of torture, saying "I'm telling you I don't think that's relevant to this issue. That's the end of that."

In total, five individuals are to stand trial at Guantanamo, accused of conspiring with al Qaeda to plot the suicide aeroplane hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania in 2001.The specific charges they face are conspiring with al Qaeda, attacks on civilian targets and civilians, hijacking, terrorism and destruction of property.

The latest attempt to try the accused follows a long legal process, which began in February 2008, when the five men were first charged. A trial against the defendants was then initiated in June 2008 but the procedure ended in 2009 after the Obama administration tried to move the trials to New York City. That attempt sparked fierce opposition from Republicans and the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, forcing the government to U-turn and announce a second attempt to try the men in Guantanamo in April 2011.

sej/kms (AFP, dpa)