GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The seventh judge presiding over the Sept. 11, 2001 hearings at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba is still taking questions about his qualifications since pretrial hearings began on Tuesday.
The pretrial hearings, which resumed Friday, in the case involving 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are the latest attempt to advance a case that has been bogged down about a decade amid legal challenges.
Air Force Lt. Col. Matthew McCall has faced some skepticism for only having two years of experience as a judge and answered several questions Wednesday about his familiarity with Islam, with the torture detainees underwent at clandestine CIA prisons before they were sent to Gitmo and with the case in general.
Air Force Lt. Col. Matthew McCall is presiding over the Sept. 11, 2001, case at Guantanamo Bay. (Credit: Office of Military Commissions)
Two defense attorneys, including the attorney representing Mohammed, again questioned McCall’s experience as they did on Wednesday. The other attorney suggested that McCall was “not prepared” to serve as the presiding judge on the case, saying he is “not in a prepared state.”
McCall said he will be taking classes on death penalty law in the coming weeks to prepare himself. McCall Wednesday in the courtroom that the death penalty is a “valid option” for the five accused 9/11 planners and said he “can be impartial” and “pretty open-minded.”
The judge has until Oct. 1 to recuse himself but is unlikely to step down from the position, officials and court experts tell Fox News.
McCall said on Wednesday that he spent five years as a defense attorney and did a tour in Iraq as a prosecutor with Task Force 134 in Baghdad in 2004. He also helped put away nearly 100 suspected terrorists.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, is seen shortly after his capture during a raid in Pakistan Saturday March 1, 2003 in this photo obtained by the Associated Press. (AP Photo)
On Friday, none of the detainees showed up for trial because Friday is Islam’s sabbath or holy day. Their defense attorneys appeared in court, but female attorneys were not wearing the traditional Islamic garb that their clients demand they wear when in contact with them.
McCall also said Wednesday while taking questions from detainee’s lawyers that he is under “zero pressure to get this case done” and “rush” a trial that has not been scheduled yet as the families of 9/11 victims await a verdict for those involved in planning the attacks that killed their loved ones in 2001.
Mohammed and his four other co-defendants are charged with several crimes, including terrorism, hijacking and 2,976 counts of murder for their alleged roles in planning and providing logistical support to the Sept. 11 plot.
The quintet has been held at Guantanamo Bay since September 2006 after several years in secret CIA detention facilities following their capture.
Fox News’ Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.