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Case Against Accused 9/11 Mastermind, Co-Conspirators Bogged Down In Procedural Issues

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So far, it's been slow going in the trial of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators, as the case is still bogged down in procedural issues. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - Hold a trial at a high-security military base in Cuba, and you get logistical headaches. Throw in a brand-new military commission system without clear rules, and things move very slowly.

"Unfortunately, we are still at the very early stages of this case," said Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch. "We're litigating very key issues about just how the lawyers are going to communicate with their clients. We still don't know the answer to that question."

Indeed, whether the government can monitor communications between the defendants and their attorneys is just one issue being heard this week. Also, how should classified information be handled? Can the public hear about so-called black sites, secret CIA overseas prisons where terror suspects were held? What about the defendants if the commission goes into closed session?

"If the military commission does close, are the defendants allowed to hear what's being said about their case?" said James Connell, attorney for Ammar al Baluchi. "That's an unsettled question in the military commissions."

"Litigating each of those issues is taking an enormous amount of time," Pitter said.

Human Rights Watch is among the groups that still wants the trial held in civilian court.

"The sad truth is that if this case had been tried in federal court, it would be over and done with by now," Pitter said. "There's no doubt about that."

"People project that this case wouldn't go to trial for two or three years," said James Harrison, attorney for Ramzi bin al-Shibh. "I think that's probably realistic."

Despite the security restrictions, the defendants have been accommodated in some ways. They are allowed to wear camouflage to court, for instance.

September 11th victims' families here this week said they believe the process, while slow, is fair, and designed to hold up on appeal.

"For me, I feel frustrated," said Joyce Woods, who lost her son in the September 11th attacks. "However, I agree that this is our system, and I think that they're being very cautious to do everything correctly."

Pre-trial hearings resume Thursday morning, then pick up again on February 11 after a week-and-a-half break.

NY1's Bobby Cuza is in Guantanamo Bay and will have reports from the hearing throughout the week.

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