Military Judge in U.S. Held Court by Video Link to Guantánamo Bay

But the complexities are magnified when it comes to Guantánamo, which in normal times is essentially a commuter court that opens with the arrival of the judge, lawyers, stenographers, translators and other staff aboard a charter plane from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.

Credit…Office of Military Commissions

In Guantánamo’s best-known case — the long-delayed trial of the defendants in the Sept. 11, 2001, plot — the government has chosen to prosecute five men simultaneously on charges that they conspired in the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Hearings typically require more than 100 people at the base, including experienced death-penalty lawyers, some in their 70s, who live outside the Washington area and are now considered at particular risk if they travel in the pandemic.

Over the weekend, the chief war court judge, Col. Douglas K. Watkins of the Army, canceled plans to hold a pretrial hearing this week in the case of a confessed Qaeda courier, Majid Khan, at a makeshift courtroom in Reston, Va. Given the rapid spread of the coronavirus, Colonel Watkins declared it too risky to hold the hearing because he was traveling from Texas and two defense lawyers were traveling from New York and Connecticut.

By the time he canceled it, one of Mr. Khan’s lawyers, Col. Wayne J. Aaron of the Army, was finishing two weeks of quarantine in a small trailer at Guantánamo in order to be able to sit with the prisoner in the courtroom and participate remotely.

Mr. Khan, who grew up in suburban Baltimore, pleaded guilty in 2012. This week’s hearing was to discuss witnesses for his sentencing, which is scheduled for May at Guantánamo — after two weeks of quarantine there for participants followed by a weeklong fact-finding hearing on the prisoner’s torture by the C.I.A.

For the Khan hearing, the Pentagon had also set up a viewing site at Fort Meade, Md., for four socially distanced journalists to watch the proceedings in feeds that would have toggled between Guantánamo and Virginia. Typically, reporters can travel to Guantánamo to observe the hearings.

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