6 Guantánamo Detainees Are Said to Face Trial Over 9/11
Military prosecutors are in the final phases of preparing the first
sweeping case against suspected conspirators in the plot that led to
the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, and drew the
United States into war, people who have been briefed on the case said.
The charges, to be filed in the military commission system at
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would involve as many as six detainees held at
the detention camp, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former
senior aide to Osama bin Laden, who has said he was the principal
planner of the plot.
The case could begin to fulfill a longtime goal of the Bush
administration: establishing culpability for the terrorist attacks of
2001. It could also help the administration make its case that some
detainees at Guantánamo, where 275 men remain, would pose a threat if
they are not held at Guantánamo or elsewhere. Officials have long said
that a half-dozen men held at Guantánamo played essential roles in the
plot directed by Mr. Mohammed, from would-be hijackers to financiers.
But the case would also bring new scrutiny to the military commission
system, which has a troubled history and has been criticized as a
system designed to win convictions but that does not provide the legal
protections of American civilian courts.
War-crimes charges against the men would almost certainly place the
prosecutors in a battle over the treatment of inmates because at least
two detainees tied to the 2001 terror attacks were subject to
aggressive interrogation techniques that critics say amounted to
One official who has been briefed on the case said the military
prosecutors were considering seeking the death penalty for Mr.
Mohammed, although no final decision appears to have been made. The
official added that the military prosecutors had decided to focus on
the Sept. 11 attacks in part as an effort to try to establish
credibility for the military commission system before a new
administration takes the White House next January.
"The thinking was 9/11 is the heart and soul of the whole thing. The
thinking was: go for that," the official said, speaking on the
condition of anonymity because no one in the government was authorized
to speak about the case. Even if the charges are released soon, it
would be many months before a trial could be held, lawyers said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, declined to comment specifically.
But he added that the government was preparing a case against
"individuals who have been involved in some of the most grievous acts
of violence and terror against the United States and our allies."
"The prosecution team is close to moving forward on referring charges
on a number of individuals," Mr. Whitman said.
Ever since President Bush announced in 2006 that he had transferred 14
"high value" detainees to Guantánamo from a secret C.I.A. detention
program, it has been expected that the Pentagon would eventually lodge
charges involving several of the numerous terror plots to which
officials say several of those men were tied.
Officials have said detainees now held at Guantánamo are responsible
for attacks that killed thousands of people, including the United
States Embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998, the attack on the
destroyer Cole in 2000, and the Bali nightclub bombing in 2002.
But it has always been clear that a case involving the Sept. 11 plot
would be the centerpiece of the military commissions system and its
most stringent test. After the Supreme Court struck down the Bush
administration's first system for military commission trials in 2006,
Congress enacted a new law.
Among other things, the Military Commissions Act provides that
detainees charged with war crimes are entitled to military lawyers to
defend them, a presumption of innocence and a right of appeal. But
detainees' lawyers and other critics have said that many flaws remain,
including the fact that the system is under Pentagon control and even
the judges are military officers.
Told of the possible charges, Carie Lemack, whose mother was killed on
American Airlines Flight 11, said such a trial would be a grueling
process for the families. But, Ms. Lemack said, "It is important that
justice be brought to those who killed my mother and nearly 3,000
It was not clear Friday whether final decisions had been made about
precise charges and which detainees are to be included.
But it is known that the prosecutors have considered charges of
murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism
because of the Sept. 11 deaths. It is also known that a joint team of
military and Department of Justice lawyers working on the case have
considered charging six of the best-known Guantánamo detainees.
Lawyers have said that two of those are men whose treatment in
American hands would inevitably be a focus of defense lawyers in their
One of them, Mr. Mohammed, known as KSM, was subject to the simulated-
drowning technique known as waterboarding while in secret C.I.A.
custody, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central
Intelligence Agency, confirmed this week.