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New Judge Takes Over Proceedings For Operatives Accused Of Planning Sept. 11 Attacks


Tomorrow is the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. And there is still no trial date for five al-Qaida operatives accused of planning that attack. A new judge took over the case today at the military court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. NPR's Greg Myre monitored the proceedings via video link at Fort Meade, Md. Hi, Greg.


SHAPIRO: It has been 17 years since this crime. Why is it taking so long to bring the perpetrators to justice?

MYRE: You know, both sides say they're still really not ready to go to trial. The prosecution has all sorts of issues with its evidence. Just last month, the outgoing judge in this case ruled that FBI interrogations at Gitmo from 2006, when they were brought there, should not be allowed. So the prosecution is still pushing to get evidence allowed.

On the defense side, they say they don't get enough information. So much of it is classified or redacted, so they're not getting enough information to put together a proper defense. Both sides were arguing for the things that they will need to proceed in the case.

SHAPIRO: What happened today as this new judge took over?

MYRE: Yeah, really fascinating development. There's a new judge. He's Marine Col. Keith Parrella. He's 44 years old. And all of the questioning today involved his competence. There's a very interesting aspect to military cases where the defense and the prosecution lawyers get to question the judge, and they did so very pointedly today.

SHAPIRO: Did the new judge give a sense of how he'll handle the case?

MYRE: Well, he was getting asked all these tough questions like it was a job interview. Like, what do you know about Islam? Have you read any books about 9/11? How many cases have you tried? And he politely answered these cases that were coming from the defense lawyers at first, and said he had a general knowledge about Islam, but not special training.

But as the lawyers pressed him on his qualifications and his experience - his limited experience being a judge for only a few years, he got pretty testy, and he got visibly annoyed. He refused to answer some of the questions, told the lawyers to move on.

And then at the end of the day, the defense lawyers asked him to recuse himself from the case. And he said he'll rule on that at a later date.

SHAPIRO: Oh. So we don't even know if he will ultimately be the judge handling this case. Does this mean it's going to go even more slowly? Hard to imagine how it could go more slowly after 17 years.

MYRE: Well, one would think that. But it certainly could. I mean, he just got this job two weeks ago on August 27, so he's still reading in. There's 20,000 pages of just pretrial documents, and he said he's read some of that. He wouldn't say how much.

But again, it shows how this could be delayed with a new judge who needs to get up to speed and could prolong the process even further.

SHAPIRO: In case people don't remember from 17 years ago, can you remind us who is being prosecuted and how they connect to the 9/11 attacks?

MYRE: These are five al-Qaida people accused of planning the attack. The best-known is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He's accused of being the mastermind. They were all picked up in Pakistan in 2002, 2003. They were held in the CIA's black site prisons overseas. They arrived at Guantanamo in 2006. And they potentially face the death penalty. But as we've seen, it may be a long time before this case ever goes to trial.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Greg Myre speaking with us from Fort Meade, Md. Thank you, Greg.

MYRE: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.