GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Khalid Sheik Mohammed wore a $39.99 camouflaged vest to the war court Wednesday, a small victory for the accused architect of the Sept. 11 attacks awaiting his death-penalty terror trial.
Three U.S. sailor guards sat just feet away from him, in the latest Navy battle dress, demonstrably distinctive from the man accused of masterminding the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
For one, Mohammed’s RothcoVintage Woodland Camo Ranger Vest — on sale for $39.99 in Sears’ website catalogue — accessorized his traditional, flowing white garb. Also, the 47-year-old captive had a white turban atop his head and a red-henna-dyed beard, unlike his cap-less, clean-shaven guards.
The attire is part of Mohammed’s effort, through Pentagon-paid lawyers, to communicate to the court that he considers himself a legitimate combatant entitled to Geneva Convention status as a prisoner of war. Once he got to Guantánamo from years in CIA custody, and 183 rounds of waterboarding, Mohammed described himself as a revolutionary-like George Washington.
The prosecution calls him a terrorist as alleged architect of the synchronized 2001 hijackings of four aircraft that left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. His four co-defendants allegedly trained, financed or helped arrange travel for the 19 hijackers.
Mohammed’s entrance to court in the vest caused a bit of a stir in the spectators gallery. “Look, fatigues,” said one observer. A man whose son was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks held up his child’s picture.
This week, lawyers are doing the spadework to prepare for trial, arguing motions on defense resources and government secrecy in the first hearings since Mohammed and four other men were formally charged on May 5. The prison camps chief, Navy. Rear Adm. David Woods, refused to let Mohammed wear the vest to court in May.
Mohammed has been known for flamboyant behavior. He recited Muslim prayer at hearings in 2008, when he was first seen after years in secret CIA prisons that included 183 rounds of water boarding. He had a massive white beard evocative of Rip Van Winkle.
But Wednesday he sat silently in court with head bowed, perhaps reading. Tuesday, he chose to skip court while his Petnagon defense lawyer got the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, to overrule the prison commander’s ban on paramilitary attire.
U.S. Army Capt. Jason Wright argued that Mohammed had a Geneva Conventions right to don camouflage because he wore similar garments as a member of the U.S.-back mujahedeen holy warrior movement in Afghanistan, and also in Bosnia.
The Pentagon prosecutors protested the clothing choice, as a mockery of the military tribunals.
“The detainee’s attire should not transform this commission into a vehicle for propaganda and undermine the atmosphere that is conducive to calm and detached deliberation,” the prosecutors wrote in a court motion.
On Wednesday, Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al Baluchi, 35, came to court, too and sat behind his uncle in flowing white garb topped by a typical Afghan tribal cap. The other three Sept. 11 accused opted out of the proceedings.