After 21 years, justice has yet to be attained in the case against the plotters of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and a year of plea negotiations and canceled hearings at Guantanamo Bay has pushed any potential trial back even further
Negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys at Guantanamo Bay could reportedly result in guilty plea deals in which the death penalty is taken off the table for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants. Top Republicans have criticized any such possibility.
In the more than two decades since the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, the five men said to be responsible for the planning and execution of the plot have yet to stand trial.
One key unresolved question is the admissibility of confessions obtained by the FBI after the CIA subjected them to “enhanced interrogation techniques” — called “torture” by some.
“At a bare minimum, we are at least one year away from trial,” Air Force Col. Matthew McCall, the presiding judge for the 9/11 case, said in September 2021, shortly after taking over the case
. Hearings were held around the 20th anniversary of the attacks last year, but the case has made little pretrial progress since then. The co-defendants appeared in court a year ago for the first time since February 2020 due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
. There were also pretrial hearings held in November 2021, but no 9/11-related hearings since then.
McCall said in late August that he would travel to Guantanamo Bay the final week of September “to convene in open, closed, or ex parte sessions as needed.”
The military commissions calendar shows that 9/11-related hearings were canceled in January, March, May, June, July, and September. There are pretrial hearings canceled in October and scheduled in November.
The delays came as leading Republicans slammed any effort to take capital punishment off the table for Mohammed and his co-defendants.
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his accomplices planned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks [and are] responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) told the Washington Examiner in March. “It is unconscionable that military prosecutors would even entertain the idea of a plea agreement that removed the possibility of the death penalty.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Examiner: “If this case doesn’t justify the death penalty, what does?”
Mohammed, dubbed “KSM” and described as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” in the 9/11 Commission Report, was a close ally of Osama bin Laden and was repeatedly waterboarded in numerous sessions while in U.S. custody. Mohammed is being tried alongside four co-defendants: his nephew, Ammar al Baluchi, who sent money transfers to 9/11 hijackers inside the United States; alleged hijacking trainer Walid bin Attash; 9/11 facilitator Ramzi bin al Shibh; and al Qaeda money man Mustafa al Hawsawi.
The delay comes as the Biden administration has continued to say it wants to shut down detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay. Approximately 780 total suspected terrorists are known to have been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, and it is believed that 36 remain, according to the Guantanamo Docket tracker.
Republicans have sought to block Biden’s efforts to shut the facility down.