Nine years after his arrest, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is finally to face justice before a military court at Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration announced on Wednesday.
He and four other men could all face the death sentence if found guilty in the long-delayed trial, the Defense Department said in a statement.
The charges allege that the five are "responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Shanksville, Pa., resulting in the killing of 2,976 people."
Mohammed was born in Kuwait and holds joint Kuwaiti, Pakistani, and Bosnian citizenship. Charged alongside him are his nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, a Pakistani; two Yemeni citizens, Ramzi Binalshibh and Walid Bin Attash, and a Saudi, Mustafa al Hawsawi.
They were originally charged in 2008 but the trial was suspended after President Barack Obama's election. He insisted they should face a civilian court in New York.
However after years of wrangling and stiff opposition from Congress, Obama backed down and last year Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the cases would revert back to military court.
Charges against the five were refiled in June and on Wednesday Ret. Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald, who oversees the military commissions, sent the case to trial.
According to the Defense Department statement the five men face charges of "terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, and destruction of property in violation of the law of war." An arraignment will be held in May at Guantanamo, where the five are being held. The men will all be tried in one joint trial.
In the original trial the defendants expressed interest in pleading guilty so they could be executed and "die as martyrs." Mohammed who has admitted that he personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 was captured by Pakistani authorities in 2003 and handed over to the U.S. Three years later President George W. Bush revealed that he had been held in secret by the CIA before being transferred to Guantanamo.
The Washington Post reported that one of the major issues in the trial will be the waterboarding that Mohammed underwent while in the hands of the CIA.
"Under the reformed system of military commissions, prosecutors cannot use as evidence any statement that resulted from torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment," reported the paper. "But attorneys for the accused are nonetheless likely to make it a central plank on any defense against the death penalty."
Immediately the American Civil Liberties Union attacked the decision to try the men in what it called "a second-tier system of justice." "Whatever verdict comes out of the Guantanamo military commissions will be tainted by an unfair process and the politics that wrongly pulled these cases from federal courts, which have safely and successfully handled hundreds of terrorism trials," said ACLU executive director Anthony Romero.
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