Pentagon to challenge interview of 9/11 suspect

Pentagon prosecutors are challenging a military court's decision to let Osama bin Laden's driver send written questions to alleged senior al Qaeda members held incommunicado at Guantánamo.

Defense lawyers for Salim Hamdan, 36, want to ask reputed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, known in CIA circles as ''KSM,'' and six other ''high-value detainees'' what they know about Hamdan's role in al Qaeda's organization.

Based on their answers, they will decide whether to call as defense witnesses any of the seven men, who are fellow detainees now but were held and interrogated for years by the CIA.

Last week, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, Hamdan's military commission judge, ruled that defense lawyers could submit questions to an independent security officer to give to Mohammed and the others held in a restricted prison camp on the base called Camp 7.

The judge ordered that the questions and answers be strictly limited to the time before Hamdan's capture in November 2001 in Afghanistan. Censors will black out any responses that don't cover that time period.

Navy Lt. Catheryne Pully, a military commissions spokeswoman, said on Monday that the prosecution would seek ''reconsideration'' of the judge's decision, which the prosecutors believed raised ``a lot of complicated issues.''

Intelligence officials have described as national security secrets the CIA sites where Mohammed and 14 other detainees were held before their September 2006 transfer to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Now they are held in Camp 7, segregated from other detainees at an undisclosed site on the remote U.S. Navy base. The prison camps' spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, has not been able to say whether the location of the camp itself is a national security secret.

Allred gave the prosecution until Tuesday to find an independent security officer -- who does not work for the prosecution -- to handle the defense lawyers' questions and detainees' answers, if they choose to reply.

Hamdan attorney Andrea Prasow, a civilian on the Defense Department team, said the Pentagon prosecutors agreed to identify the security officer but notified the team on Saturday that they would ask for reconsideration of the question.

Hamdan's lawyers wanted to meet the men in person to assess their credibility as potential witnesses at Hamdan's summertime trial.

The lead defense lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brad Mizer, said the attorneys also sought face-to-face meetings with the detainees because, after years in CIA custody, the captives might suspect written questions as an interrogation trick.

Allred's remedy to the defense lawyers mirrors a 2003 formula proposed by a federal judge at the civilian trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, who eventually pleaded guilty to providing material support for al Qaeda and is now serving a life sentence.

In that case, the Justice Department refused to let the defense send questions to Mohammed, the reputed 9/11 mastermind. At the time, he was under CIA interrogation, and the government argued his testimony would harm the war effort.

In this instance, the men Hamdan's lawyers seek to question are now among 15 former CIA detainees in military custody at Guantánamo.

• Mohammed, who according to Pentagon transcripts confessed to plotting the 9/11 attacks along with a long string of other al Qaeda suicide bombings, as well as beheading Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

• Ramzi bin al Shib, a Yemeni and Mohammed's alleged go-between with some of the 9/11 attackers.

• Walid bin Attash, another Yemeni who supposedly trained some of the hijackers.

• Mustafa al Hawsawi, who supposedly helped get funds to the Sept. 11 suicide squads.

Those four men were identified as candidates for execution at Guantánamo as part of a complex, six-detainee prosecution the Pentagon unveiled last week. Their charge sheets await approval from a Bush administration appointee. None of them yet have lawyers.

In addition, Hamdan's lawyers asked to interview Abu Faraj al Libi, Abdul Rahim al Nashiri and Abdul Hadi al Iraqi because of their knowledge of other al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan not tied to the Sept. 11 strikes.