US charges alleged 9/11 attackers

Accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. [AFP]
PHOTO

Accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. [AFP]

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9/11 accused sent to trial

Created: 05/04/2012

Last Updated: Thu, 5 Apr 2012 08:11:00 +1000

Self-proclaimed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged plotters have been charged and ordered to stand trial before a Guantanamo war crimes tribunal.

The United States has charged the five with terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians and other counts.

The Pentagon says they could face the death penalty.

Mohammed and the other four are accused of planning and executing the September 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

They are accused of conspiring with Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other members of the group, and are due to make their first court appearance within 30 days.

The decision to move to trial in a military court follows years of political and legal wrangling over whether terrorism suspects like Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators should be tried in civilian courts as criminals or before military courts as enemy combatants.

"It has been more than 10 years since 9/11 and the president is committed to ensuring that those who were accused of perpetrating the attacks against the United States be brought to justice," White House spokesman Jay Carney said when asked about the decision to proceed to trial.

The referral of charges comes one year after the administration abandoned efforts to try the five before a civilian court near the site of the World Trade Centre attack, as president Barack Obama had promised, and shifted the case to a military tribunal at Guantanamo.


'Terrible mistake'


Attorney-General Eric Holder blamed lawmakers for the policy reversal, saying their decision to block funding for prosecuting the September 11 suspects in a New York court had tied the administration's hands and forced it to move to a military trial.

Congress also blocked the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the US for trial or for any other reason.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) condemned the decision to proceed with a military case, saying the administration was "making a terrible mistake by prosecuting the most important terrorism trials of our time in 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," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said.

Human Rights First favours a trial in a federal court.

"The families of those lost on 9/11 deserve justice, as do all Americans," spokesman Dixon Osburn said.

"What Americans don't deserve is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along trial before a tribunal where the rules seem to be under constant scrutiny and revision."

Joint trial


The decision to refer the case to a military tribunal means the five will have to be arraigned before a military judge at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba within 30 days of their formal notification that the case will go to trial.

The Pentagon says notification is expected to happen on Thursday.

The case has been referred to a joint trial, meaning the five will be tried together.

In addition to Mohammed, the accused are Walid bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi.

James Connell, the civilian attorney for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, said in a statement his client, a nephew of Mohammed, did not kill or plan to kill anyone and should not face the death penalty.

Ali's lawyers have said in the past that he was a computer worker in Dubai who sent money to the hijackers and was not a direct participant in planning the attacks.

"Mr Ali would not be eligible for the death penalty if this case were tried in federal court," Mr Connell said.

"This attempt to expand the reach of the death penalty to people who neither killed nor planned to kill is another example of the second-class justice of the military commissions."

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