GREENFIELD — Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin, a U.S. Army Reservist who is helping prosecute defendants in the Sept. 11 attacks, was called to testify before the court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Tuesday.
The reason for his testimony: None of the five defendants – including the alleged mastermind in the attacks – agreed to appear in court as military hearings got under way. Part of Griffin’s job is to be a liaison with the defendants, and he was relaying information from them to the judge.
Griffin works in Legal Proceedings Support, a unit responsible for various legal aspects of the military commissions of detainees.
Griffin personally spoke to each of the five defendants early Tuesday to determine who would attend the day’s proceedings. Among the men he is dealing with is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged architect of the attacks and one-time right-hand man of Osama bin Laden in al-Qaida. Griffin consented to having his name included as part of the public record, which he said is a departure from normal procedure. Former officers in his capacity have opted to have their names withheld from transcripts of the proceedings for security purposes.
“To my way of thinking, I’m a person who’s fairly easily found, so if al-Qaida is serious about finding me, they would have no trouble. The fact of my name being disclosed in the proceeding … makes no difference.”
These commission hearings address pretrial motions, which cover everything from how the accused communicate with their lawyers to how they must dress in court. The hearings are expected to go on for the next three weeks.
The military proceedings were stalled somewhat after their start Monday when two of the defendants refused to respond to questions from the judge in the case.
Mohammed refused to say whether he approved the hiring of another attorney to represent him, and Waleed bin Attash refused to tell the court why he wanted one of his three military lawyers, Marine Corps Maj. William Hennessy, removed from his team.
Bin Attash hinted at his motivation later in an exchange with the judge about whether he wished to attend future sessions of the court.
“We have been dealing with our attorneys for about a year and a half, and we have not been able to get any trust with them,” the Yemeni said through an Arabic translator.
Bin Attash is one of the lesser figures among the five defendants in the Sept. 11 case. He allegedly ran an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan where two of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks trained. He is also believed to have been a bodyguard for bin Laden.
The lawyer ousted by bin Attash said in an interview outside court that he is prohibited from discussing the details of his conversations with the defendant. But he said there was no specific incident that precipitated his dismissal.
“It had nothing to do with substance, nothing to do with my work on the team, no disagreements over anything,” he said.
Instead, he said, the move was sparked by the defendant’s distrust of the military tribunals. He said all five defendants generally distrust the military attorneys appointed to represent them.
Griffin echoed that sentiment.
“I think the basic perception is that the accused want to maintain their position that the court is not legitimate, and that’s why they don’t want to address the court,” Griffin said.
Cheryl Bormann, the civilian lawyer for bin Attash, said the ability to build a relationship with him has been hampered by the inconvenience of traveling to the U.S. base in Cuba and security rules that include requirements that all written communications with the defendants be monitored in what she says is a violation of the attorney-client privilege.
At one point Monday, as a lawyer for Mohammed was discussing a motion to preserve the clandestine CIA prisons as evidence, part of a defense move to prove their clients were tortured, a courtroom official turned on a white-noise machine, preventing spectators from hearing the proceedings.
The defendants were required to attend the first day of hearings. They are not required to attend going forward.
The five defendants face charges that include nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles in planning and aiding the Sept. 11 attacks. They could get the death penalty if convicted in a trial that is likely at least a year away.
Griffin will continue to work in Legal Proceedings Support throughout the duration of his deployment. He returns from Cuba in late March.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.