Joe Mathieu: Correspondent Arun Rath is on the ground covering the military pre-trial hearings, trying the architect of the 9/11 attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with four others accused of supporting the attacks. Welcome back, Arun. Thanks for being with us.
Arun Rath: Happy to be with you.
JM: We learned from you yesterday about some dramatic evidence recovered from one of the hijacker's suitcases that was left behind at Logan Airport. First remind us, why they're getting into this evidence now?
AR: That's because lawyers for one of these defendants — this is Mustafa al Hawsawi — they're arguing that the war court lacks the jurisdiction to try these men, saying that we weren't formally at war with al Qaeda until the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which of course took place after the 9/11 attacks. The government has been calling witnesses and showing evidence to prove the war actually started back in 1996 when Al Qaeda declared war on the U.S. So, we're getting, kind of, a preview of some of the evidence that will be used to connect these men with 9/11 and the history of al Qaeda.
JM: Wow. What additional evidence have you seen now, this many years later?
AR: Well, we had another FBI agent take the stand yesterday, actually a former FBI agent. Her name is Abigail Perkins, and she had a pretty impressive 22-year career with the bureau, and most of it was in counterterrorism work. Her last posting actually, though, was as an FBI special agent in charge for Boston. She talked through a lot of detail on financial records that tied Al-Hawsawi to seven of the 9/11 hijackers. She connected a lot of the dots showing transfers of money that went back and forth, purchasing plane tickets and so on. So we saw, like, you know, the names and addresses on these bank statements, shipping receipts, other documents establishing the connections. One of the things that creeped me out, I have to say, you know, being from Boston, was one of the labels showing a delivery address in Chestnut Hill.
JM: Did she have any other details on Hawsawi himself?
AR: Yeah, I mean, a ton of details, actually, because Perkins was part of the FBI team that interrogated Hawsawi back in 2007. She spent four days questioning him about seven hours a day. So about 28 hours of interviews from this guy. And there were some fascinating details from that. She asked him if he had called anyone to warn them to stay away like you know from New York or wherever, during the attacks, and he said he didn't call anybody, didn't warn anybody, because he didn't want the operation to fail.
He was on a flight to Karachi in Pakistan that landed on September 11, 2001, and he went right to a TV, because he was curious. He didn't actually know the details of the operation of the 9/11 attacks, he was just supporting these guys. He didn't know what exactly was going to happen, and he was surprised to see these planes going into the towers when he when he turned on the TV. He said he was happy to have been able to support what he called 'the brothers,' who carried out the attack, and he got to essentially celebrate the victory with Osama bin Laden. And she asked him how he felt about all the people who had died. And he said he didn't think about the deaths of individuals there, just about the legitimacy of the target.
JM: It's a peek inside a cell. So, what would happen if the judge decided the defense was right here, Arun, and basically dismisses the charges?
Arun: Well, he could certainly do that. And these judges have a lot of independence. But even if that were to happen, it's hard to imagine that Hawsawi would walk free. You know, this is this is Guantanamo. You know, if the charges get dismissed in the war court, it's not like he's going to leave this place. If the charges get dismissed, my guess is that he probably just goes back to his cell in Camp 7 along with — there are other plenty of other detainees that are being held here without charge, and without any kind of judicial process that would lead them to either a sentence punishment or release.
JM: We're talking with WGBH Correspondent Arun Rath who's at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. This is your first trip back to Gitmo, Arun, and he's been there many times. But in this case, the first time since President Trump took office. I wonder if it feels or looks any different?
AR: Yeah, there are definitely some things that are different. Honestly, it's a little bit harder to report here. It's kind of run down a bit. The phones here in the media center where I'm talking to you don't work. We have kind of a jerry-rigged setup that we're talking on right now.
The biggest thing as far as that goes is that the prosecution has stopped giving press briefings, which used to be a regular big part of this. It's just feeling a little bit less friendly to reporting all around. Reporters have been banned from the Officers Club, which might sound like a silly, frivolous thing, but it all goes to access, you know, to this base to be able to report and cover things fully. I mean, we can't directly put that on Mr. Trump, you know, because there's a whole chain of command. And also these are degrees of difference, as well, you know, it's harder to report here, but it's never like it's ever been easy to report from here either.
JM: WGBH Correspondent Arun Rath, thanks for being with us on Morning Edition.
To listen to the interview, click on the audio player above.