President Donald Trump’s comments about a U.S. Army deserter and a suspected New York City terrorist sparked a debate Thursday at the pre-trial of the alleged conspirators of the 9/11 attacks.
Defense lawyers for the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others argued that the death penalty should be dropped from consideration, or the instance fell altogether, saying Trump’s past tweets could influence the jury.
The fiery exchange at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was over Trump’s tweets concerning Bowe Bergdahl, a military defector who was captured by the Taliban, and Sayfullo Saipov, a suspected ISIS terrorist who allegedly drove a truck through a motorcycle lane last Halloween, killing eight people and injuring 12.
“The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military, ” Trump tweeted shortly after a military magistrate ruled to dishonorably discharge Bergdahl but spare him of prison time.
In the case of Saipov, Trump indicated the death penalty shortly after the attack, before the suspect was officially charged with a crime.
“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY! ” Trump tweeted. “Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than “re going through” the Federal system.”
A lawyer for Mohammed advised the military commission, led by the magistrate, Army Col. James Pohl, argued that the president’s stance toward those only suspected of crimes constructed the death penalty consideration, if not the case itself, hard to justify, the Miami Herald reported.
But prosecutor Bob Swann downplayed the influence of the president’s past social media commentary, insisting that the jury of U.S. military officers would be objective and reach their verdict based on the evidence presented.
Even the magistrate took a shot at Trump over his criticism regarding the handling of the Bergdahl case, saying “The president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, feelings necessary to criticize a colonel of the United States Army for a decision that we all know he’s empowered to make.”
Defense attorney David Nevin used to say, in the case of the New York City attack, “The commander-in-chief is telling them the result that he wants here, that is a death penalty.” He also pointed out that Trump has complained that war-court proceedings were too slow.
The prosecutor said the issue of the president’s tweets could be mitigated during the jury-selection process. Jury members “will decide the demise issue based on a host of other things. Not merely a few commentaries made by the chairman, ” Swann said, the Herald reported.
Swann was also asked by the judge whether it’s appropriate to state that “a guy who is presumed innocent should get the death penalty”- a including references to Trump’s call for the capital punishment for Saipov.
“No, sir, ” the prosecutor responded , noting that there will be more similar public statements before jury selection in the 9/11 occurrence, according to the Herald.
Asked how to stop the president from possibly tainting the 9/11 trial, for which a start date hasn’t been specified yet, the judge told “I have ways to stop it.”
He added: “With all due respect to the commander-in-chief, if he wants to interject himself into this process by making these kind of comments, it is my job to make sure this process is still fair.”
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