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Guantanamo judge weighs separate trial for 9/11 suspect

By Tom Ramstack

FORT MEADE Md. (Reuters) - A U.S. military war crimes tribunal heard arguments on Thursday on whether to order a separate trial for a Saudi man charged with helping organize and finance the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, 46, argues his alleged participation in the attacks was less than his four co-defendants' roles and joint prosecution would violate his rights to a fair trial and to confront his accusers.

“We’re seeking an independent assessment of guilt,” Walter Ruiz, Hawsawi’s attorney, said in the pre-trial hearing at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He told Judge Army Colonel James Pohl that prosecutors were lumping Hawsawi’s case with the other defendants as a strategy of seeking “a greater chance of convictions by association.”

Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, argued the defendants should be tried together because they had joined efforts in a conspiracy.

Hawsawi is accused of helping to arrange the entry into the United States of hijackers who slammed airliners into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, killing 2,976 people.

Hawsawi allegedly sent funds to the hijackers and shared a credit card account with suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Attorneys for a second accused conspirator, Ramzi Binalshibh, a 42-year-old Yemeni, also want him tried alone.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys also argued whether a joint trial would create greater efficiencies or unnecessary delays. Hawsawi has been held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay for almost eight years.

On a separate issue, defense attorneys asked the judge for an investigation and detailed report on Federal Bureau of Investigation efforts to question their support staff, including interpreters they used to speak with their clients.

David Nevin, lead counsel for Mohammed, asked the judge to reconsider his July 24 ruling that no conflict of interest arose for defense attorneys from the FBI questioning.

The hearing was monitored by closed-circuit television at a Fort Meade press center, near Washington.

The next pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13, when the military commission is set to consider motions by Mohammed's lawyers. The defendants face possible death penalties if convicted.

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