A federal appeals court on Friday agreed to consider an alleged 9/11 conspirator's plea to halt his sanity hearing slated for Sept. 21-25 at the war court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Lawyers for Ramzi bin al Shibh, an alleged al Qaida lieutenant, filed a 71-page writ of mandamus this week at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, arguing that the military commissions created by Congress and the Bush administration are unconstitutional.
Army Col. Stephen Henley, a military judge, has scheduled a full week of commission hearings at Camp Justice from Sept. 21 to hear evidence on whether Bin al Shibh is competent to face trial and defend himself.
Bin al Shibh, about 37, is being treated with psychotropic drugs at the prison camp for what his military attorneys say is a diagnosed "delusional disorder." Meantime, the two Navy lawyers assigned to defend him have sought an emergency stay.
Friday, at the close of business, a three-judge panel of the court ordered the government to respond by Tuesday and the Bin al Shibh team to follow up by Thursday, casting a shadow over the next round of war court proceedings.
Select families of 9/11 victims and legal observers have been invited to assemble at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday Sept. 20 for Department of Defense escorted travel to the proceedings.
Media who routinely report on the war court were not invited by the close of business on Friday, the anniversary of the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Bin al Shibh, who was captured in Pakistan on Sept. 11, 2002, allegedly helped the 9/11 hijackers find flight schools in America. He is accused of conspiracy in the mass murder of 2,973 people on Sept. 11, 2001, and the Pentagon prosecutor seeks execution if there is a conviction.
Meantime, the Obama administration is still deciding whether to go forward with the military trial of five 9/11 accused, Bin al Shibh among them, or have them face trial in federal court in New York or Virginia.
The three appeals court judges who will decide the Bin al Shibh appeal are Karen LeCraft Henderson, who was sent to the bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1990; Judith W. Rogers, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton; and David S. Tatel, also a Clinton appointee.
Legal experts described as unusual the panel's decision to consider the case, and to order up a Justice Department legal brief.
There is no automatic requirement for a government response to a federal petition for a writ of mandamus and other petitions for extraordinary relief for prisoners claiming mental defect have been routinely dismissed without taking any other action.