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By Tom Ramstack
FORT MEADE Md. (Reuters) - A military judge ruled on Wednesday that one of the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States must at least temporarily rejoin the other four defendants in a single trial despite concerns about his mental health.
Judge Army Colonel James Pohl ordered Ramzi Binalshibh removed from the joint trial in July after his disruptions in court and complaints about what his attorney called “noise and vibrations” at his cell at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, raised concern about his mental competence.
U.S. Justice Department prosecutors say Binalshibh, a 42-year-old Yemeni, might be delusional but still is competent to stand trial. They filed a motion for Pohl to reconsider his order to try Binalshibh separately, saying it would create delays.
“Having it done one time for all remains the best answer for all right now,” prosecutor Clay Trivett said in a pretrial hearing. Binalshibh has been held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay for almost eight years.
James Harrington, the defence attorney for Binalshibh, called his case “a very difficult issue” that demands a separate trial.
Pohl ruled Binalshibh should rejoin the joint trial when it resumes on Thursday while he considers whether a separate trial would be more appropriate.
Binalshibh and the other four defendants, including accused Sept. 11 attack mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, face possible death penalties if convicted.
Binalshibh is accused of wiring money and passing on information from al Qaeda leaders to the hijackers who slammed airplanes into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, killing 2,976 people. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002.
The trial was delayed for months after the judge ordered competency tests for Binalshibh. Military psychiatrists have been unable to agree on his mental health.
A second defendant, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a 46-year-old Saudi, also has requested a separate trial. He argues his alleged role was smaller than his co-defendants' and joint prosecution would violate his rights to a fair trial and to confront accusers.
The pretrial hearing was monitored by Reuters through closed circuit television at Fort Meade, outside Washington.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jim Loney)