FORT MEADE, Md. U.S. government prosecutors asked a military judge on Tuesday to let 10 relatives of Sept. 11, 2001, victims testify in open court during a pre-trial hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Five men face the death penalty in the case, including Pakistan-born Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who took credit for masterminding the hijacked plane attacks in 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Civilian prosecutor Edward Ryan said about 400 relatives have asked to testify. He told Judge Army Colonel James Pohl that his team would like to question the first 10 in October, many of them the elderly parents of victims.
He noted that two potential witnesses "wanted very much to testify," but have already died.
Ryan said one witness would be Lee Hanson from Easton, Connecticut. His granddaughter was the youngest victim in the attacks.
Hanson's son, Peter, was flying with his wife and 2-year-old daughter on United Airlines Flight 175 when it was hijacked and crashed into the South Tower of New York's World Trade Center.
"During the hijacking, Peter called our witness ... and described to him what was going on inside the plane," said Ryan. "That's about the only direct evidence we have from someone on Flight 175."
Defense attorneys opposed the request, saying it was inappropriate to depose the witnesses in an open hearing because the remarks could influence potential jurors.
They suggested the statements instead be videotaped and saved as potential evidence for the trial.
"What the government is asking to do is have a public exposition of the tragedy that these individuals experienced, and they're asking to do that in a way where future panel members and jurors can have exposure to it," said Cheryl Bormann, attorney for Walid bin Attash, a suspected al Qaeda training camp leader from Yemen.
There was no indication on when Pohl would rule on this motion.
Other motions scheduled for the week-long hearing at the Navy base in Cuba include requests by defence lawyers for evidence of how the five suspects were treated at secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons.
Proceedings have been plagued by repeated delays, and the case is likely years from going to trial.
Seven relatives of Sept. 11 victims are in Guantanamo Bay this week to attend the hearing. Reuters monitored the proceedings over closed-circuit television from a media centre at Fort Meade, outside Washington.
The case is among a half dozen against Guantanamo inmates. There are 80 prisoners still at the Cuban base, mostly from Yemen. Almost 800 inmates have been transferred as U.S. President Barack Obama tries to fulfill his pledge to close the offshore prison before he leaves office in January.
(Editing by Ian Simpson and Sandra Maler)
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