US charges 6 for roles in 9/11 attacks, seeks death

Updated: 2008-02-12 08:57

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has charged six detainees at Guantanamo Bay with murder and war crimes in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is pictured in these undated handout photos. U.S. military prosecutors will file charges on Monday against the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and five other Guantanamo prisoners and will seek to execute them if they are convicted, officials involved in the process said. [Agencies]

Officials said Monday they'll seek the death penalty in what would be the first capital trials under the terrorism-era military tribunal system.

"These charges allege a long term, highly sophisticated, organized plan by al-Qaida to attack the United States of America," Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser to the tribunal system, told reporters. He said a total of 169 charges were sworn against suspects "alleged to be responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks" in 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Related readings:
 CIA says it cooperated with 9/11 panel
 Woman's 9/11 survival story questioned
 Ahmadinejad questions 9/11, Holocaust
 US marks 6th anniversary of 9/11 terror acts

 Bin Laden lauds 9/11 'champions'

Hartmann said the six include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the attacks in which hijackers flew planes into buildings in New York and Washington. Another hijacked plane crashed in the fields of western Pennsylvania.

The military wants the six tried together before a military tribunal. But the cases may be clouded because of recent revelations that Mohammed was subject to a harsh interrogation technique known as waterboarding — which critics call torture.

Asked what impact that will have on the case, Hartmann said it will be up to the military judge to determine what evidence is allowed.

Prosecutors have been working for years to assemble the case against suspects in the attacks that prompted the Bush administration to launch its global war on terror.

The other five men being charged are: Mohammed al-Qahtani, the man officials have labeled the 20th hijacker; Ramzi Binalshibh, said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and leaders of al-Qaida; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been identified as Mohammed's lieutenant for the operation; al-Baluchi's assistant, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi; and Waleed bin Attash, a detainee known as Khallad, who investigators say selected and trained some of the 19 hijackers.

The men would be tried in the military tribunal system that was set up by the administration shortly after the start of the counterterror war and which has been widely criticized for it rules on legal representation for suspects, hearings behind closed doors and past allegations of inmate abuse at Guantanamo. Original rules allowed the military to exclude defendants from their own trials, permitted statements made under torture, and forbade appeal to an independent court; but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the system in 2006 and a revised plan set up after Congress enacted a new law has included some additional rights.

Defense lawyers still criticize the system for it's secrecy.

But Hartmann said Monday that the defendants will get the same rights as U.S. soldiers tried under the military justice system including the right to remain silent, call witnesses, and know the evidence against them. Appeals can go all the way to the Supreme Court.

He called the charges sworn Monday "only allegations" and said the accused will remain innocent until proven guilty.

The decision to seek the death penalty also is likely to draw criticism from within the international community. A number of countries, including U.S. allies, have said they would object to the use of capital punishment for their nationals held at Guantanamo.

The military tribunal system requires that a panel of 12 unanimously find a defendant guilty for capital punishment cases, Hartmann said.

   1 2   

Top World News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours