In a highly dramatic turn of events, the top five terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks told a military judge Monday that they want to confess their guilt and find martyrdom in their execution.
The defendants said they made their decision Nov. 4, when Barack Obama was elected U.S. president. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the purported ringleader who drew up the detailed plans for the attack, along with the other four co-defendants decided not to continue defending themselves against the capital charges, they told the judge.
Mr. Obama has promised to close the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and end the war trials.
Mohammed has mentioned that he welcomed his execution as a path to martyrdom. Army Col. Stephen Henley, the judge in the case, asked all five if they were prepared to enter a plea, and all five said yes.
Judge Henley, however, said competency hearings for two of the detainees precluded the other three from immediately filing pleas.
“We want everyone to plead together,” said Mohammed, who wore a long, white beard.
The judge read aloud in court a letter written by the five defendants in which they requested “an immediate hearing session to announce our confessions,” the Associated Press reported.
The letter implies that they want to plead guilty, but does not specify whether they will admit to any specific charges. It also says they wish to drop all previous defense motions.
Mohammed, who was one of three high-ranking terrorists waterboarded by the CIA and has admitted being the mastermind behind the attacks, said Monday that he did not trust the judge or his Pentagon-appointed lawyers. He went on to include President Bush among those he didn’t trust.
“I don’t trust you,” Mohammed said in English during the hearing.
Mr. Obama has publicly stated that he opposes the military commissions, as the trials at Guantanamo are referred to. The president-elect has said he will close the detention center holding about 250 men.
Jeffrey Addicott, director for the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, said closing Guantanamo Bay would create a public-relations disaster for the United States and present the country with logistical problems of what to do with dozens of detainees.
Military officials allowed a group of relatives from some of the 2,973 people killed Sept. 11 to attend the proceedings at the prison.
Alice Hoagland of Redwood Estates, Calif., whose son, Mark Bingham, was killed when United Flight 93 crashed in a rural area of Pennsylvania, told the Associated Press that the confession was like a “bombshell” to her.
Mrs. Hoagland said she hoped Mr. Obama, whom she described as “even-minded” and “just,” would punish the five terrorists.
“The U.S. is doing its best to prove to the world that this is a fair proceeding,” Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, whose parents Donald and Jean were on Flight 93, told the AP.
“It was stunning to see today how not only do the defendants comprehend their extensive rights … they are explicitly asking the court to hurry up because they are bored with the due process they are receiving.”