The trial for the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged co-conspirators is set to resume today at Guantanamo Bay, just days before the 20th anniversary of America’s darkest day.
Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi will appear in the military tribunal Tuesday on charges of plotting and executing the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 people.
The pre-trial proceedings will run from Tuesday through Friday, before resuming Monday through September 17.
Additional pretrial hearings are then expected to be held in November, followed by jury selection in 2022 at the soonest.
All five suspects face the death penalty if convicted of the capital charges which include: 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.
It marks the first time the five suspects will appear for the military tribunal since early 2019 after numerous delays in the pursuit of justice – most recently caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The timing is especially poignant with Saturday marking 20 years to the day that al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airplanes and carried out coordinated attacks across the US.
Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The anniversary comes off the back of the US’s chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last month which saw the Taliban regain control of the country and 13 American troops killed in a suicide attack in Kabul.
President Joe Biden also signed an executive order Friday ordering a review of the classified documents related to the 9/11 terror attacks after victims’ family members and survivors told him to stay away from the anniversary events unless he declassified documents potentially showing Saudi government ties to the hijackers.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as KSM, is one of five Guantanamo Bay detainees whose pre-trial hearings will resume on Tuesday
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh (left) and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali are both accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks and will have their cases resume on Tuesday with pre-trial hearings
Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash (left) is accused of training the hijackers to fight, while Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, now 53, from Saudi Arabia, is accused of giving financial backing to the group
The hearings will take place at the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC) at Camp Justice which was specifically built for the trial of 9/11 suspects.
The five suspects will all be present in the courtroom for the hearings, which will be attended by a small number of reporters, victims’ families and survivors.
Air Force Colonel Matthew McCall will preside over the five suspects’ pre-trial hearings.
He is the eighth military judge to sit on the case and the fourth during the pretrial proceedings.
McCall said Sunday the proceedings will begin Tuesday with an initial hearing focused on his own qualifications.
Lawyers for both sides are allowed in a war crimes tribunal to question a new judge for possible bias.
The rest of the week will mostly involve meetings with the military prosecutors and defense teams.
Much of the pre-trial hearings will focus around what evidence will be admissible at trial, as the defense has argued information was gathered under torture.
It is unclear how much of the hearings the public will learn due to concerns around classified information and national security.
The five suspects have been locked up at the ‘War on Terror’ prison at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for nearly 15 years.
They were first indicted in 2012.
But after a 17-month halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, the proceedings appear likely to continue where they left off, mired in the defense’s efforts to disqualify most of the government’s evidence as tainted by the torture the defendants underwent in CIA custody.
With scores of motions lined up to demand evidence that military prosecutors refuse to hand over, defense attorneys said the pretrial phase could easily last another year, placing far over the horizon any hope for a jury trial and verdict.
Asked if the case could ever reach that point, one defense attorney, James Connell, replied ‘I don’t know.’
The September 11 2001 terrorist attacks killed 2,977 people including 2,753 people in New York
Attorneys say the five defendants are all weak and suffer the lasting effects of severe torture endured in secretive CIA ‘black’ sites between 2002 and 2006.
Added to that, the attorneys say, is the cumulative impact of 15 years in harsh, isolated conditions since arriving.
They will appear in an ultra-secure military commissions courtroom surrounded by fences of razor wire, each with his own defense team.
In the audience will be family members of some of the 2,977 people they are accused of murdering two decades ago, as well as a large contingent of reporters to mark the confluence with the somber anniversary on Saturday.
The five face the death penalty on charges of murder and terrorism in the war crimes tribunal.
They are represented by attorneys assigned by the military, as well as pro-bono lawyers from the private sector and non-governmental organizations.
Since the case started, prosecutors have regarded it as open-and-shut, even without the tainted information reaped from the brutal CIA interrogations.
Instead, prosecutors maintain that the defendants all provided solid evidence of conspiring in the 9/11 attacks during so-called ‘clean-team’ interrogations conducted by the FBI in 2007, after the five arrived at Guantanamo.
But defense attorneys argue that the 2007 interrogations were hardly ‘clean’ because the FBI also took part in the CIA’s torture program, and their interrogations carried a similar menace.
The defendants, still feeling the impact of torture at that time, spoke to the FBI under the real fear that it would start again, the defense contends.
The 9/11 attacks, carried out almost 20 years ago, killed almost 3,000 people
‘Make no mistake, covering up torture is the reason that these men were brought to Guantanamo’ instead of the US federal justice system, said Connell, who represents Baluchi.
‘The cover-up of torture is also the reason that we are all gathered at Guantanamo for the 42nd hearing in the 9/11 military commission,’ he said.
To prove their case, the defense is demanding huge amounts of classified materials that the government is resisting turning over, on everything from the original torture program to conditions at Guantanamo to health assessments.
Defense lawyers also want to interview dozens more witnesses, after 12 already appeared before the court, including two men who oversaw the CIA program.
The demands have delayed the trial, but the defense blames the government for actively hiding materials relevant to the case.
Alka Pradhan, another defense attorney, noted that it took the government six years to admit that the FBI took part in the CIA’s torture program.
‘This case wears you down,’ she said.
‘They are withholding things that are normal procedure in court.’
During recesses in the pre-trial proceedings, the five suspects will be held in five separate holding cells by the courtroom, reported ABC News which toured the facility Sunday.
The cells are numbered ELC14 through ELC18.
Each cell has a toilet, a Qibla pointer pointing to Islam’s holiest site, and a mounted bed with a foam cushion on a mattress – but no sheets due to suicide risks.
The suspects will be woken from their cells at the Joint Task Force where they are being held around 5am each day to be taken to the holding cells for around 6.30am.
There is also a larger holding cell for the defendants to have meetings with their legal teams and a building with a shower.