(Reuters) – – The alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks told the Guantanamo courtroom on Wednesday that the U.S. government had killed many more people in the name of national security than he is accused of killing.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed was allowed to address the court at a pretrial hearing focused on security classification rules for evidence that will be used in his trial on charges of orchestrating the hijacked plane attacks that killed 2,976 people.
“When the government feels sad for the death or the killing of 3,000 people who were killed on September 11, we also should feel sorry that the American government that was represented by (the chief prosecutor) and others have killed thousands of people, millions,” said Mohammed, who wore a military-style camouflage vest to the courtroom.
He accused the United States of using an elastic definition of national security, comparable to the way dictators bend the law to justify their acts.
“Many can kill people under the name of national security, and to torture people under the name of national security, and to detain children under the name of national security, underage children,” he said in Arabic through an English interpreter.
“The president can take someone and throw him into the sea under the name of national security and so he can also legislate the assassinations under the name of national security for the American citizens,” he said in an apparent reference to the U.S. killing and burial at sea of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the U.S. use of drone strikes against U.S. citizens accused of conspiring with al Qaeda.
He advised the court against “getting affected by the crocodile tears” and said, “Your blood is not made out of gold and ours is made out of water. We are all human beings.”
The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, gave Mohammed permission to speak and did not interrupt him, but said he would not hear any further personal comments from the defendants.
Mohammed’s lecture to the court came during a week of pretrial hearings at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba for him and four other captives accused of recruiting, funding and training the hijackers.
He did not indicate why he wore a camouflage vest, but his wardrobe choice suggested he might try to invoke protections reserved for soldiers.
Pohl had ruled on Tuesday that the defendants could wear what they want to court, so long as it did not pose a security risk or include any part of a U.S. military uniform like those worn by their guards.
Mohammed’s lawyers had argued that he should be allowed to wear a woodland-patterned camouflage vest to court because he wore one as part of a U.S.-armed mujahideen force fighting against Russian troops that occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“Mr. Mohammed has previously distinguished himself on the battlefield by wearing a military-style vest or clothing. He did it in Afghanistan for the U.S. government during that proxy war, he did it in Bosnia and he has a right to do it in this courtroom,” his defense attorney, Army Captain Jason Wright, argued on Tuesday.
The United States is trying Mohammed and the other alleged al Qaeda captives as unlawful belligerents who are not entitled to the combat immunity granted to soldiers who kill in battle.
They could face the death penalty if convicted of charges that include conspiring with al Qaeda, attacking civilians and civilian targets, murder in violation of the laws of war, destruction of property, hijacking and terrorism.
Under the Geneva Conventions, one of the things that separate soldiers from unlawful belligerents is the wearing of uniforms that distinguish them from civilians. Soldiers must also follow a clear command structure, carry arms openly and adhere to the laws of war.
Wright had argued that forbidding Mohammed from wearing military-style garb could undermine his presumption of innocence in the war crimes tribunal.
“The government has a burden to prove that this enemy prisoner of war is an unprivileged enemy belligerent,” Wright said.