About 250 kids and kin of men and women killed on 9/11 vied for
six courtroom seats. Around the same number of journalists sought to work at
Guantanamo this weekend. Senior human rights lawyers swept aside staff
attorneys and interns for a three-night stay in a six-bunk tent.
Competition has been fierce to secure a weekend spot at Camp Justice, Guantanamo's crude war court compound in southeast Cuba where Pentagon prosecutors will once again charge confessed mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants with orchestrating the terror attacks by hijacked passenger aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's the Nuremberg of our times," said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, accounting for the crush of press applications to report from Guantanamo on Saturday when the one-day arraignment hearing restarts the clock on the death penalty trial by military commissions.
Reporters emailed from as far away as Australia and Pakistan, willing to cross the globe at short notice to join the press flight from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., to the U.S.-controlled corner of Cuba.
About a dozen German newspapers and broadcasters sought seats, probably because Yemeni defendant Ramzi bin al Shibh, 40, is accused of organizing the cell of hijackers from Hamburg, where he also allegedly helped them apply for Florida flight schools. Only Der Spiegel among the Germans got one of the 60 reporter beds in tent city.
Although nearly 3,000 people were killed in the terror attacks, only about 250 of their survivors submitted their names for a Defense Department lottery for seats set aside for "victim family members" -- spouses, siblings, grandparents, parents or children of those killed.
Those chosen include two women who lost their husbands on 9/11, a man who lost his wife, and two sisters who lost their two brothers inside the World Trade Center that day, said Karen Loftus, the Pentagon's coordinator for Sept. 11 victims.
All are from the East Coast and will decide, at Guantanamo, whether to tell their stories and make their names public.
Interest in watching the proceedings has been building, said Loftus, who anticipates the lottery pool to expand for any actual trial. Saturday's hearing follows years of legal controversies surrounding the court, which was initially closed by the Supreme Court in the Bush years, then twice reformed, most recently by President Barack Obama and Congress.
"People need to see that it's really going to happen," Loftus said Wednesday. "The Supreme Court has weighed in, Congress has weighed in, both presidents have weighed in. And this is happening."
All four New York City newspapers, site of Ground Zero, got seats as well -- The Post, The Daily News, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, as well as major television news networks from FOX and CNN to Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
First-time journalists include Terry McDermott, author of The Hunt for KSM, just released, and former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani, who was a colleague of murdered Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl and his wife were staying in Nomani's rented home in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002 before his kidnapping and beheading, which Mohammed boasted at Guantanamo he did "with my blessed hand."
Nomani will be reporting for Washingtonian magazine. McDermott's going to
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