The death penalty trial of the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind and his four co-conspirators held at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is still pending nearly two decades after the jihadis executed the attack, the deadliest on American soil.
In an unprecedented move, however, the judge overseeing the military tribunal at Gitmo finally set a date at the end of last month for the start of the trial for the five defendants.
On August 30, U.S. Air Force Col. Shane Cohen, who took over as the judge overseeing the case in June, said the trial would begin January 11, 2021, as the nation approaches the 20th anniversary of the day that triggered the longest war in American history.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to remove the Taliban from power for harboring the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the days leading to the attack and prevent the South Asian country from again becoming a haven for terrorists seeking to attack America.
Afghanistan is now home to the “highest regional concentration” of terrorist groups in the world, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), the Pentagon reported in July.
Pre-trial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and the four other men alleged to have played vital roles in helping carry out the massacre on September 11, 2001, resumed Monday.
As the U.S. holds another memorial service Wednesday for the nearly 3,000 people killed by al-Qaeda 18 years ago, the five defendants will still be awaiting trial.
KSM and his co-conspirators — Walid Muhammad Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Al Hawsawi — could face the death penalty.
The U.S. is still holding the five terrorists at the detention facility in Guantánamo, commonly known as Gitmo.
U.S. authorities did not arraign KSM and his four co-conspirators until May 2012, more than a decade after the attacks. American service-members captured KSM in 2003 and transferee him to Gitmo in 2006.
The military commission at Gitmo has repeatedly delayed the prospective trial of the 9/11 perpetrators in U.S. custody.
In setting the trial date, Judge Cohen acknowledged that the U.S. military base at Guantánamo “will face a host of administrative and logistics challenges,” the Military Times reported.
National Public Radio (NPR) added:
[A] number of other deadlines would need to be met for the long-delayed trial to begin.
That includes the U.S. government turning over all evidence it is required to give to defense attorneys. Lawyers for the five defendants say prosecutors have not been forthcoming.
Several defense attorneys told NPR they think the scheduled trial date is unrealistic, and they say Guantánamo isn’t physically ready for a trial of that magnitude. But prosecutors have been asking for a trial date for several years and say that finally having one will motivate all parties to meet the deadline.
The tribunal overseeing the case of the 9/11 attackers is a hybrid of the federal and military justice system.
This week, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) revealed:
Crucial pre-trial hearings for the accused mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks and four other men alleged to have played key roles in helping carry out the passenger plane hijackings will resume on Monday (September 9) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
[KSM], who confessed to being involved in the capture and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was subjected to extensive torture and was waterboarded 183 times.
The procedure simulates a drowning experience.
Lawyers for the defense are arguing that any confessions or other material should be invalidated because of the torture and are likely to file motions to have the entire trial set aside.
Gitmo is still housing 40 jihadis, the majority of whom are considered “forever prisoners,” or too dangerous to release.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has only transferred one detainee out of the facility. Former U.S. President Barack Obama had approved the prisoner for release.
The Trump administration is considering sending newly captured terrorists to the prison, particularly the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadis.
Citing the slow-moving pace of the military commissions and the cost of operating Gitmo, critics continue to argue in favor of allowing civilian courts on U.S. soil to handle the remaining cases.
U.S. law approved under the Obama administration, however, makes it impossible to transfer any Guantánamo prisoner to the United States.
Gitmo’s military tribunals have only produced eight convictions, including four overturned completely and one partially.
KSM and the other four defendants are among the only seven prisoners still held at Gitmo who face charges before a “military commission.”
Of the four overturned convictions, the military commission will have to deal with three. The other prisoner has appealed his life sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. authorities only charged 16 detainees held at G with criminal offenses, Human Rights Watch reported.
Yemenis make up the single largest national group at the prison, followed by Saudis.