Alleged 9/11 mastermind set for court

2012-05-04 14:00
Washington - Justice may be a long time coming, but more than a decade after 11 September 2001, the alleged masterminds of the attacks are due to get their day in court.

The five men have spent the last few years in the high-security prison on the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On Saturday, the alleged terrorists led by alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are to appear before a military tribunal in Guantanamo to hear the charges against them.

Ten years, seven months and 24 days after the suicide attacks on New York and Washington that took nearly 3 000 lives, the proceeding is under way "to ensure that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others who are accused of these heinous crimes are brought to justice", White House spokesperson Jay Carney said.

According to the Pentagon, the charges include terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder, attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury and destruction of property.

The military court is to begin with the formal reading of the charges. A routine procedure that usually lasts only a few minutes, in this case, with all its intricacies, the reading is likely to be longer.


Mohammed and fellow defendants Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash already stood before a court in Guantanamo once, in June 2008.

Mohammed used the procedure for a stage, loudly mocking the US court system and demanding to be sentenced to death.

"This is what I want," he told the military judge. "I'm looking to be martyr for long time."

Mohammed, who was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan, accused then-president George W Bush of conducting a crusade against the Muslim world. The defendant rejected his lawyer as an agent of the US government and said he could not accept lawyers with no knowledge of Islamic law anyway.

At that time, the main trial never got underway.

When Democrat Barack Obama moved into the White House in January 2009, he intended to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and bring suspected terrorists before civilian courts on US soil. Obama suspended all active military courts, and moved to try the 11 September suspects in New York.

Double-edged sword

However, his plans met with strong opposition in Congress and from local authorities in New York. So, in June, charges were again brought against the defendants in Guantanamo, and in April the case was ordered to trial.

Mohammed, who in preliminary legal procedure emerged as the group's spokesperson, could well get his wish: The prosecution is seeking the death penalty for all five defendants.

That is a double-edged sword for the US government, which would like to avoid making the alleged top terrorists into martyrs in the eyes of al-Qaeda sympathisers. The dilemma, according to Justice Department sources, is one of the reasons why the trial was so long postponed.

The main cause of the delays, however, is the complexity of the legal issues - first and foremost as to what evidence is to be allowed.

According to CIA documents made public in 2009, Mohammed underwent the interrogation method known as waterboarding - a simulated drowning - 183 times at a secret prison in March 2003.

The New York Times reported that Mohammed was extremely willing to give information about terrorist actions and plans, particularly when interrogated by a certain CIA agent.


How much of that was the result of mistreatment? Obama has since banned the use of waterboarding.

Mohammed is regarded as a man who is prone to bragging, perhaps even about actions in which he never took part. This, too, according to military legal specialists, will need to be sorted out of his statements.

However, the prosecution's representatives remain convinced that the evidence available for the trial will be enough to secure convictions.

The reading of the charges will only launch a series of hearings before the actual trial begins, likely next year.

If it begins at all, that is. It is regarded as possible that Mohammed and his co-defendants may plead guilty on Saturday, which would considerably shorten proceedings.

But perhaps the five men will insist on their innocence, as they did in 2008. Mohammed, according to eyewitnesses of that reading of the charges, loves the limelight, and he could again try, as he did back then, to turn the trial into a show.

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