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Accused 9/11 plotters ask for new Gitmo judge to be replaced

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Accused 9/11 plotters ask for new Gitmo judge to be replaced
A courtroom sketch depicts accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during a hearing in 2009. Mohammed and four others face trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, this week. Image by Janet Hamlin/EPA-EFE

Sept. 11 (UPI) -- On the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Tuesday, five men accused of masterminding the plot to hijack airliners and crash them into buildings face trial at the Navy's prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The proceedings, though, have already hit a snag -- three of the defendants are asking the newly appointed judge, Marine Col. Keith Parrella, to recuse himself from the case. Attorneys for accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other accused ringleaders said Parrella has conflicts of interest and bias.

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They say Parrella is too cozy with prosecutors from their time together in the Department of Justice's Counter-terrorism Section in 2014 and 2015.

"Connection to a party with the litigation is a classic reason why judge's recuse themselves," defense attorney James Connell III told reporters. "I would feel much less concern if he hadn't worked for the same specific unit that much of the prosecution worked for."

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The attorneys also cite Parella's pending appointment to a security position with the Marine Corps next summer. They say that means he'll have to leave the case, meaning another judge will need to be appointed, and add to the delays.

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Initially, Parrella resisted their request

"I'm qualified in according with [the military's requirements] and we're moving ahead," he said

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Later Monday, he said he would weigh the request overnight.

Defense attorneys questioned Parrella for several hours, asking about his knowledge of Islam, his relationship with the prosecution and his feelings about the terrorist attacks.

With each question, Parrella appeared to became more agitated.

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"What this feels like is a quiz of the military judge," Parrella said. "I'm not going to stand up here and be quizzed."

The Sept. 11 terror attacks killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and in Somerset County, Pa.

Five men, including Mohammed, have yet to face trial for their role in planning the attacks six years after they were arraigned. Three have asked that Parrella recuse himself.

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Originally, Army Col. James Pohl presided over the case but he retired for personal reasons. Parrella was appointed Monday.

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