The American Civil Liberties Union, which for years has scorned Pentagon military commissions as “kangaroo courts,” announced Friday that it will try to provide top civilian defense attorneys for alleged terrorists facing trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – including the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Former Attorney General Janet Reno is among top lawyers who’ve endorsed the $8.5 million effort, which will help coordinate and defray the expenses of civilian defense attorneys working on the terrorism cases. Under the military commissions scheme, the Pentagon won’t reimburse volunteer civilian attorneys for expenses.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said a major thrust of the effort will be to defend Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who military officials say has confessed to masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks and several other terrorist acts, including the beheading in Pakistan of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.
The ACLU chose to focus on Mohammed’s defense, Romero said, because he appears to be “the government’s top priority in the prosecution. And whether or not they are able to convict Khalid Sheik Mohammed under these rules may well determine the fate of the almost 300 other men who are detained at Guantanamo.”