Transcript: James Harrington’s remarks on the arraignment of alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh

Transcript of remarks by James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel, on the arraignment of Ramzi Binalshibh at Guantanamo Bay on charges related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

(*NOTE: Press conference was held on Sunday, May 6, 2012)

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh, speaking to reporters at Guantanamo Bay on May 6, 2012. SOURCE: Department of Defense / Sgt. 1st Class Robert Stephenson

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“I don’t have any prepared remarks but if anybody has questions for me I’d answer it.”

Question: 

“In the court last night, your client seemed to make a gesture and offered a smile toward the direction of the victims families seated in the gallery, and the family members who saw it was angered by it, said something that was an expletive in response to it. Can you explain why your client did it? Did you know he was going to do it? Is this something that had been planned? Any more light you can shed on what occurred?”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“Your mentioning of this is the first that I’m aware of it. I did not see it, and as Mr. [James] Connell said, we can’t discuss anything that our clients have told us anyway. I really don’t know. I didn’t know he did that.”


Question: [inaudible]

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“I don’t know. I don’t know whether that was to the relatives or someone else in the back. I don’t know.”

Question: 

“As a follow-up to that, the families of the victims, especially back in our coverage area in New York, were not taking yesterday very, very well and it seems to be adding insult to injury. How do you hope to be able to do this peaceful resistance and get your point across that these men deserve a free and fair trial when they’re going to act like this in public and make it so that they’re just even more unpalatable to the public at large than they’re already might be?”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“I don’t think that the – whether the public or as much sympathy as we have for the victims’ families whether any actions by our clients are offensive to them or offensive to the public have anything to do with getting them a fair trial. They’re entitled to a fair trial, and it’s our obligation to try and get them a fair trial. And it’s going to be very difficult giving [sic] the constraints we’re under and the rules in these commissions to accomplish that. I’m sure you’re aware of many, many cases where there are heinous offenses and the public hates the persons that are charged, and our system tries to accommodate anyone and give them a fair trial. So whatever the actions that our clients might have done, whatever they do in the future, should not impact whether they get a fair trial or we try to get them a fair trial.”

Question: 

[inaudible]”…or some sort of political statement?”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“Well, I don’t think that we’re really in a position right now to tell you that. Our obligation obviously is to defend our clients. And part of the problem that we have is that we cannot tell you what our clients want. The questions that you ask are all very good questions. They’re the questions that everybody wants to know. But under these rules, we have severe constraints and we have to abide by them.”

Question: 

“You said just a moment ago that you’re very concerned about your ability to discuss this case with your client. Can you describe in concrete terms what the impact has been on your ability to speak with Mr. Binalshibh?”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“Well, there are certain areas that are off-limits for us, including questions about their confinement and questions about things that have happened to them in their past. And until there’s some change in the rules that we operate under, we have severe constraints in exploring those issues and they bear significantly on this case and the issues that ultimately will be litigated.”

Question: 

“Does that mean that that is an act of interference in the attorney-client relationship? And is that a potential ground for appeal?”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“My answer to that would be an unqualified yes. And the issues of that interference are ones that will be litigated very shortly.

“I’m only going to take 2 more questions because other people…”

Question: 

“How do you think the day went yesterday?”


James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“Very long.

[Laughter]

“Well, actually I suppose we can say it went smoother than some people had anticipated. We got through the whole arraignment process and everybody has counsel now and things are set to progress.”

Question: 

“In the prior iteration of this trial, your clients – there were some questions as to whether he had the capacity to defend himself? It was in the public record that he was on strong psychotropic drugs and I’m wondering if there’s been any – if you can tell us – if there’s been any change in his mental condition or the kind of pharmaceuticals he’s getting from the government?”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“Again, a very appropriate question but I can’t respond to it right now.”

Question: 

“Given that you can’t talk to him about his confinement, can I just ask how you, as his lawyer, feel and respond when you hear him stand up in court and say, ‘Maybe I won’t be here later. Maybe they’re going to kill us. They’re going to say I committed suicide.’ How do you respond to hearing that?”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“Well, obviously, it’s distressing to anybody to hear that. One of the things we hope to accomplish very quickly is that we can remove these barriers so that we can address these issues. These issues have to be raised at some point in time in context of these proceedings. One way or another, we have to find a way with a judge’s intervention or whatever to be able to do that.”

[Later during the press conference:]

Major William T. Hennessy, detailed military counsel for Walid Mohammad Salih Mubarak Bin’Attash: 

“If I could, I’d like to clarify that one question on Mr. Harrington.

“I’d like to clarify on that one massive mis-confusion over what Ramzi Binalshibh was gesturing to before it spread like wildfire.

“I, too, was sitting in the gallery and you heard why, and I saw the same gestures. He was calling and he was waving. He gave the thumbs up. He was smiling. And everyone in the gallery, including myself, thought he was gesturing to us in the gallery. It was a little bit disconcerting. As it turned out, I watched it very carefully, he was talking to his translator who was sitting up against the gallery glass. And the translator got up and I watched Ramzi’s eyes follow the translator. The translator walked around, they met, they started talking. He was 100% gesturing to his translator, not those of us in the gallery.”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“I just want to – the question about my client gesturing to the back of the room. Obviously, I told you I didn’t know anything about it. And Bill Hennessy just clarified what he had seen.

“I just want you to know I have met with Mr. Binalshibh probably 15 times now since the beginning of the year, and on almost all of those, we’ve had the same interpreter with us and he has built up a relationship with the interpreter. And I suspect that if you had seen him earlier, there were a couple of occasions that I did see where he asked the interpreter to come up and talk to him. So based upon my relationship with him and what I know of him – and this has nothing to do with whether he did anything or didn’t do anything with respect to 9/11 – but I would find it surprising that he would in any way do anything to the victims’ families or to anybody in the public or to the press. That’s just not the person that I know. Thanks.”

Question: 

“I’m assuming that you were at the arraignment at…other federal terror arraignments and I’m trying to figure out – yesterday’s took roughly 13 hours. What would that have taken in a federal court? Half an hour to an hour, I suppose.”

James Harrington, civilian learned defense counsel for Ramzi Binalshibh:

“Well, the procedure in federal court is different. There’s much more formality in these proceedings.

“When I say half an hour to an hour that’s probably way too short because depending on the responses of the people who are accused, obviously it could take longer. Or the lack of responses. A federal judge would have to deal with many of the same difficult procedural issues where the accused don’t respond.”

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