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Mohammed preps for tribunal

It will be the first public appearance for the No. 3 al-Qaida leader since his capture in 2003, and his lawyer, Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, said he doesn't know what Mohammed will say when he addresses the judge with dozens of journalists in attendance.

“He does not present any anxiety, but it is my impression and belief that this has got to be producing a lot of anxiety for him,” Prince said. “It is what could be the beginning of the endgame for him, or the beginning of some level of positive resolution.”

Mohammed and four co-defendants are charged with organizing the attacks that crashed four jetliners into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a rural Pennsylvania field. He could face execution if found guilty of murdering 2,973 people.

But the al-Qaida kingpin hasn't shied away from taking responsibility for such crimes before, allegedly boasting to a military panel last year that he had planned 31 terrorist attacks around the world.

Prince, a courtly Virginian called up from the Navy reserves for the case, has spent more than 10 hours in face-to-face meetings with one of the world's most notorious terror suspects. Huddled together in a windowless room at the remote Guantanamo Bay Navy base in southeast Cuba, Prince said Mohammed quickly picked up on the case's legal intricacies.

Security rules prevent him from publicly revealing anything his client says or the conditions of his confinement.

But Prince's impressions provide rare insight into the thinking of a man he says is showing some trust in his American military attorney.

“He is polite. He is appropriate. There are two-way discussions between he and I,” Prescott said. “He calls me Mr. Prescott. I call him Mr. Mohammed.”

The trial will not only be a showcase, but a test case, for the military tribunal system the Bush administration has created and defended against repeated legal challenges, including one now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that could result in the tribunals being declared unconstitutional for a second time.