GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Reputed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed has balked at testifying in person at the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver, defense lawyers said Wednesday. Instead, the jury will get written statements from the al Qaeda kingpin and another alleged plotter in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Lawyers for Salim Hamdan, 37, plan to use the testimony of Mohammed and Walid Bin Attash to try to exonerate the driver, Hamdan, of being an al Qaeda co-conspirator.
One of those men has already written Hamdan's lawyers that the Yemeni with a fourth-grade education ''Was not fit to plan or execute,'' according to defense attorney Harry Schneider of Seattle. ``He is fit to change tires. And oil filters.''
The argument dovetails nicely with the driver's defense that he never joined al Qaeda, did not know in advance about the details of al Qaeda terror plots and merely drove for $200 a month — and not for ideology.
The prosecution says he admitted to knowing broadly that ''operations'' were coming, and took part in high-security motorcades that spirited bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders safely around Afghanistan, in case of U.S. reprisal.
Moreover, they describe Hamdan as a sometime member of the al Qaeda leader's elite bodyguard unit, and a sometime weapons courier.
Defense lawyers have tried for months to get access to the alleged al Qaeda senior leaders in U.S. custody, formerly held by the CIA. The government resisted, until the eve of trial. The idea was to bring in what defense lawyers call self-confessed terrorists, people who are reportedly proud of their deeds to describe what Hamdan's role was in the organization, if any.
But Schneider notified the trial judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, late Wednesday afternoon that the so-called high-value detainee known in CIA circles as ''KSM'' would not be testifying in person, and neither would Bin Attash, who like Hamdan is a Yemeni.
Bin Attash is also implicated in both the 9/11 plot and the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole of Aden, Yemen, an event that Hamdan claims to have first believed was carried out by the Israelis, not his boss. Seventeen soldiers died in the suicide attack by two men who blew up an explosives-laden boat alongside the $1 billion U.S. Navy destroyer — and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh initially blamed Israel's Mossad.
Last week, ''KSM refused to meet'' with Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, Schneider told the trial judge. Mizer is Hamdan's Pentagon-appointed attorney, and had the necessary security clearances to meet with former CIA-held captives. Schneider did not.
Moreover, Mohammed ''sent notice through his detailed defense counsel that he would refuse to go to court.'' So Schneider said they would use his and Bin Attash's earlier written responses to questions sent to them by the Hamdan.
Of Mohammed, who has convinced a Marine Corps judge to let him defend himself at his own death penalty trial, Schneider said: ``I see no value to seeing him testify forcibly.''
Still unclear was whether another supposed bin Laden lieutenant, Mahdi al Iraq, would be called to testify as the lone high-value detainee at the Hamdan trial.