Flags wave above the sign for Camp Justice, the site of the U.S. war crimes tribunal compound, at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba on July 15. (Brennan Linsley / The Associated Press)
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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A pretrial hearing in the Sept. 11 war crimes trial was delayed Thursday when none of the five defendants agreed to attend.
The defendants were apparently protesting a judge's ruling that the accused mastermind of the terrorist attacks and two other men would not be able to speak at the session, which was to focus on preparations for a hearing on whether two of the men are mentally competent to stand trial.
The judge, Army Col. Steve Henley, had previously ruled that he would only allow the two defendants whose mental competency was in question to speak at the hearing.
Prosecutor Bob Swann said the government believes detainees should attend all sessions and he asked the judge to grant five minutes of speaking time for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other detainees to persuade them to attend.
The judge was considering the request when he received a note that one of the defendants had changed his mind and would attend. The hearing was expected to resume later Thursday.
The question of whether a defendant can be forced to attend all sessions of the Guantanamo war crimes court is unresolved under the special system for prosecuting alleged terrorists created by Congress and former President George W. Bush.
At times, military judges have directed guards to forcibly bring detainees to court while detainees at other times have been allowed to boycott sessions.
All five are charged with murder and other crimes, and they face a possible death sentence if convicted.
The men have said they intend to serve as their own attorneys and plead guilty. The two who have not yet been deemed mentally competent, Ramzi Bin al Shibh and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, have not yet received clearance from the court to represent themselves.