The Pentagon on Wednesday announced formal charges against the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and four co-conspirators and called for a joint military trial that could result in the death penalty for all five men.
Wednesday’s announcement actually marked the refiling of charges against the alleged conspirators because the Pentagon originally issued charges against them in 2008.
In 2009, the Obama administration froze all proceedings involving detainees held at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while it reviewed legal processes and attempted to move the proceedings from military tribunals there to civilian courts in New York City. The charges against the five men were withdrawn in 2010.
Faced with congressional and local opposition, the administration relented and sent the case back to the military commission system.
Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the prosecutors assigned to the Sept. 11 case restarted their work late last year.
On Wednesday, the Office of Military Commissions referred charges to a tribunal for a joint trial in the case of United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi.
They are accused of being responsible for the planning and execution of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Arlington County and Shanksville, Pa., that resulted in the deaths of 2,976 people.
Specific charges include terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy, murder, attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, and destruction of property.
The accused have a defense team of military and civilian attorneys, including some who specialize in death-penalty cases.
In previous hearings, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has chosen to represent himself. It is not clear whether he will do so in future court proceedings.
Col. Breasseale said the five defendants will be arraigned at Guantanamo Bay about 30 days after they have been served with the charges, which is likely to happen Thursday.
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce E. MacDonald, the convening authority for military commissions, will assign a military judge to the case during the 30-day period.
The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, will lead a team of 10 other prosecutors, both military and civilian trial lawyers.
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement criticizing the announcement of the charges.
“The military commissions were set up to achieve easy convictions and hide the reality of torture, not to provide a fair trial,” said Anthony Romero. “Although the rules have been improved, the military commissions continue to violate due process by allowing the use of hearsay and coerced or secret evidence.”