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With Gitmo hearing, a legal 'circus' resumes

With Gitmo hearing, a legal 'circus' resumes
Friday, May 4, 2012 - 6:54pm

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (CNN) -- The Obama administration's struggle over how to handle the prisoners and prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, enters a new chapter Saturday when a military judge here convenes an arraignment for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men for their alleged roles in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

It could be a routine military commission hearing, with charges read and pleas entered, or it could be the latest act of a legal and political free-for-all.

"I've had conversations with other people who believe the circus is going to begin with the first appearance," said Rear Adm. Donald Guter, who once served as the Navy's top lawyer.

"One of the most important things that's going to happen at arraignment is the scheduling of the trial and the scheduling of the motions hearings, and I'm sure there will be many," said Neal Puckett, a lawyer and retired Marine colonel who has spent most of his career in military courtrooms.

Technically, once the five are arraigned, the court has met the constitutional requirement for a speedy trial.

"The reality, of course, is that no one at Gitmo is getting a speedy trail," Puckett said. "The rules are written as such to run the clock from the time that the charges are actually preferred or sworn, and of course that process has sort of started and stopped and started and stopped several times."

Mohammed was brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2006 after being held by the CIA but was not brought to trial until June 2008, when the five suspects first appeared before a military commission on the charges against them.

Under that commission, Mohammed tried to plead guilty. But while the judge was considering the plea, the process stopped. "The original set of rules and laws that were set down under the Bush administration for the trial by military commission were basically struck down by the Supreme Court, so they had to start over and basically put together a new framework, a new regime," Puckett said.

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