Transcript: James Connell’s remarks on the arraignment of alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali
Transcript of remarks by James Connell, civilian learned defense counsel, on the arraignment of Ali Abdul Aziz Ali at Guantanamo Bay on charges related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
(*NOTE: Press conference was held on Sunday, May 6, 2012)
James Connell, civilian learned defense counsel for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali:
“Lt. Col. [Sterling] Thomas and I would like to first thank the many surviving victims as well as the friends and families of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks or other terrorist-related activities for both their participation and patience during yesterday’s arraignment. We continue to admire the strength and courage of those who have lost so much, and we keep them in our thoughts, our prayers, and our meditations.
“Yesterday, you may have observed that the accused participated in a peaceful resistance to an unjust system. The accused refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the military commissions as demonstrated through their silence.
“These men have endured years of inhumane treatment and torture. This treatment has serious long-term effects and will ultimately affect every aspect of the military commission tribunal.
“As the military commission acknowledged yesterday, Mr. Bin ‘Attash had difficulty using headphones to hear the court’s translations since it caused him distress as a result of his prior mistreatment by the United States government.
“The exclusion of evidence obtained by torture is only the beginning step in accountability. This May proceeding may turn out to be the only public examination of the torture years and we are committed to a full airing of the use of torture.
“The military commission did not resolve any motions yesterday. The military commission set the next hearing for June 12 through 15 inclusive. At that time, the military commission is expected to take up all currently filed motions plus any others filed on or before May 12.
“The military commission also set a status date of May 5, 2013, putting an end to speculation that this proceeding will be over in a short time.
“May 5, 2013 is not a trial date but a status date used as a placeholder until a true trial set is set.
“As we noted in our press conference on Friday, the defense will seek to pull back the curtain of secrecy and image management to unveil unpleasant truths and seek accountability for torture.
“During the arraignment, Capt. [Michael] Schwartz, military counsel for Mr. Bin ‘Attash, merely used the term ‘torture’ and the discussion was immediately censored from public consumption.
“Several other defense attorneys then had to artfully phrase their comments to ensure the hearing would not be censored further.
“At the June 12 hearing, we will oppose the government’s attempts to block public access to evidence of torture through the protective order they advocate in appellate exhibit 13.
“Also at the June 12 hearing, the military commission is expected to address our motion to end the illegal practice of presumptive classification.
“On Friday night, Brigadier Gen. [Mark] Martins asked you – the press – to review the protective order entered in federal court in the Ghailani case. He told you that this order would demonstrate the use of presumptive classification in federal criminal cases. In fact, the opposite is the case. I’ve posted the Ghailani federal protective order on the GitmoWatch Facebook page and Twitter feed. It clearly adopts the traditional approach of classification rather than the Guantanamo approach of classifying every statement of a prisoner.
“I have a copy of that statement available for you and we’re on a very short time schedule since we’re trying to catch a plane, so I’m only going to take three questions.”
Question: “After your long session yesterday, do you have absolutely any confidence that this trial (1) will come to a resolution ever, and (2) that it will have some impact on the military commission system?”
James Connell, civilian learned defense counsel for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali: “With respect to the first question, no, I don’t have confidence that this proceeding will ever come to a resolution.
“If you could rephrase your second question, I didn’t fully understand it.”
Question: “I just wondered whether all the arguments that will be put by the defense counsel will eventually have a long-term or even a short-term impact on status, if you like, of the military commission system.”
Connell: “Judge [James] Pohl made it clear that he would carefully consider every argument made by the defense and, as he sees it, rule regardless of political consequence. Given that promise by Col. Pohl yesterday, it is our hope that the motions that we file and the challenges we make the military commissions will eventually prevail.”
Question: “Is this correct that this was a strategy by the 5 accused to do what you described as a ‘peaceful resistance’ in court yesterday?”
James Connell, civilian learned defense counsel for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali: “Other than what is said in court, under the 40-second delay, everything else that the accused say or believe or that we’ve learned from the accused remains presumptively classified under the presumptuous classification rule. So I cannot give you outside information about any strategy. I will tell you that certainly there appeared to be a coordinated strategy but I can’t give you outside confirmation of that.”
Question: “You said that Capt. [Michael] Schwartz merely mentioned the use of torture and it was immediately censured, but weren’t there references by Mr. [David] Nevin to torture so what was censored, what was not?”
James Connell, civilian learned defense counsel for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali: “Well, as far as I could tell, the button – the security button – was only hit once and that was during Capt. Schwartz’s comments. And of course, I can’t tell you exactly what was said because the button was it and that means it’s classified according to the security. I will tell you, however, that it is clear that general allegations of torture are not classified. So that’s why I can tell you they have been tortured. Any specifics beyond that cannot be confirmed or denied by counsel involved in this.”
“I just want to leave you with the idea that the arraignment yesterday demonstrates that this will be a long, hard-fought but peaceful struggle against secrecy, torture and the misguided institution of the military commissions.
“Thank you for your attention.”
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- Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay: Transcript #1 of May 5, 2012 arraignment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al (PDF)
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- Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay: Transcript #4 of May 5, 2012 arraignment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al (PDF)
- Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay: Transcript #5 of May 5, 2012 arraignment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al (PDF)
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- Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al – Description of charges part 1 (PDF)
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