It's been an action packed week in Guantanamo's court, said a leading defense lawyer today without irony - even though there have only been a total of about five hours of public sessions this whole week in the case of the September 11 attacks, which took place 14 years ago.
There's a slowmo dynamic to the court in sync with the island's laidback Caribbean pace - Guantanamo's speed limit is 25mph and there's not much that can't wait until tomorrow, or next week. "We're edging along like an inch worm" said a particularly perspicacious senior lawyer. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks 14 years ago but hearings are sporadic and constantly interrupted and delayed. This morning's session was canceled overnight, this afternoon's not open to observers.
One of the defendants is Ramzi bin al Shibh. He's 42 and used to work in banks in Yemen, and is accused of supporting the hijackers by wiring them money and otherwise facilitating their preparation for the September 11 attacks.
He was interrogated at a CIA black site from 2002-2006 where, according to the report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee in December 2014, he was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment for approximately 34 days, including forced nudity, sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and waterboarding.
Earlier this year the hearings were abruptly suspended when Al Shibh identified the man sitting next to him in court - a Pentagon-supplied court interpreter - as someone who had worked at the CIA black site. "I cannot trust him because he was working at the black site with the CIA, and we know him from there," said Al Shibh.
The interpreter has been removed from the case but the incident resulted in more delays and strengthened the suspicion of government interference with the defense teams.
There have been issues about the bugging of conversations between attorneys and the accused, about the FBI infiltrating defense teams, about handwritten notes about their defense being seized from prisoners.
Figuring out these problems extends the ticktocking of what is probably the most expensive criminal case in history.
President Obama's dramatic veto yesterday of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) over provisions that would have made it enormously difficult for him to close the Guantanamo detention facility makes the prospect of his shutting the place down - as he promised on day one of his presidency - a little more feasible. The provisions would have extended the absolute ban on transfers from Guantanamo to the United States--even for trial--until December 31, 2016.
If Obama can find a way to move these cases off this island and ideally into federal courts they could be processed much more quickly and efficiently. But if Obama doesn't manage to close Guantanamo down before he leaves office, this whole circus is likely to run well beyond the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001.