- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Military prosecutors will seek the death penalty for six senior al Qaeda members, currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, for war crimes leading to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people during the September 11 terrorist attacks, Pentagon officials announced yesterday.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, a Defense Department legal adviser, said the Pentagon plans its first war-crimes military commission since 1947 and told reporters that “there will be no secret trials.” He pointed out that the al Qaeda members will have the same legal rights U.S. service members have had when charged with murder, rape or other war crimes in Iraq.

Gen. Hartmann added that the six detainees, who include purported September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are charged with the “crime of conspiracy and with the separate substantive offenses of murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, terrorism and material support to terrorism.”

Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in Texas, said a military commission “is the only proper way to try these detainees” adding that they are war criminals.

“Our president, Congress and our courts have said we are in a state of war,” Mr. Addicott said, adding that the defendants can appeal any sentence, including execution, to the Supreme Court regardless.

“From 2006 to present … we have a clear, definite legal statute that says illegal enemy combatants can be tried by military commission,” he said.

The 90-page charge sheet, 66 pages of which are devoted to listing those killed in the September 11 attacks, from the Office of Military Commissions lists the other five charged as Waleed bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi and Mohammed al-Qahtani.

The charges accuse the six detainees, acting “as alien unlawful enemy combatants,” of conspiring with Osama bin Laden and others “at various locations, from in or about 1996 to in or about May 2003” to assist in planning and preparing the “19 individuals who hijacked four commercial airliners on September 11, 2001.”

The first charge lists 169 overt acts of conspiracy.

One example describes how Mohammed, “in or about December 1999” gave Attash “a razor knife to secrete on his person while traveling in order to assess airline security measures. Bin Attash carried this razor knife on flights to Malaysia, Bangkok and Hong Kong. On these flights, Bin Attash collected information on United States air carriers, such as the number of passengers on the flights that were in first class, business class, and economy class.”

Mohammed also admitted killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded in Pakistan in 2002. But Gen. Hartmann said his death is “not one of the charges in this case.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents al-Qahtani, called the commissions “a perversion of justice” and “morally reprehensible.”

Dominic J. Puopolo Jr., whose mother was a passenger aboard one of the hijacked planes, told reporters he had mixed feelings.

“There’s a feeling that we have to rehash this again, and it will be in the media and bring back some very painful memories,” he said. “On the other hand, the worst of the worst are going to be held accountable for their actions.”

The overlapping charges are so complicated and the legal and appeals process so careful that no final verdict, much less an execution, is considered imminent.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said that the president had no role in the military’s decision to seek the death penalty.

In an e-mail to employees yesterday, CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden said that the six, who were previously held within CIA’s high-value terrorist interrogation program, “played important roles in planning and promoting the murder of thousands of innocent people.”

“So today, I would like to recognize the skill and dedication of our officers in the long and difficult fight against terror,” Mr. Hayden said in the e-mail, obtained by The Washington Times.

Last week, Mr. Hayden disclosed for the first time his agency’s use of waterboarding to help interrogate three subjects, including Mohammed. The other two have yet to be charged. Mr. Hayden told Senate members that the “lawful interrogation” technique, which some have denounced as torture, was used only three times and necessary to gain critical information on al Qaeda after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

At a Guantanamo Bay military hearing, Mohammed confessed that he funded and planned the September 11 attacks. He also admitted to being involved in more than two dozen other terrorist acts around the world, according to the Pentagon.

Gen. Hartmann said it will be up to the tribunal judge to determine what evidence is allowed when he was asked how waterboarding by CIA interrogators would affect the case. He did not elaborate any further. Some scholars think will lead to debates over human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay.

But Mr. Addicott said despite opposition, he is certain the government has overwhelming evidence to successfully try Mohammed.

AL QAEDA DETAINEES Below are brief descriptions of the six al Qaeda detainees charged with murder and conspiracy in the September 11 attacks on the United States: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind who purportedly proposed the operational concept to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1996 and went on to oversee the entire operation. Mohammed declared at a military hearing in March 2007 that he was responsible for the plot “from A to Z.” Waleed bin Attash, who is thought to have run a training camp in Logar, Afghanistan, where two of the hijackers were trained, and who purportedly traveled to Malaysia in 1999 to scout out airport security by U.S. air carriers. Ramzi Binalshibh, a member of the Hamburg, Germany, cell who was supposed to be a September 11 hijacker but failed to get a U.S. visa and instead became a facilitator who found flight schools for the hijackers and handled money for the operation. Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who purportedly provided $127,000 for the plot and facilitated travel to the United States of nine hijackers. Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, an assistant to Al-Aziz Ali, who purportedly provided the hijackers money, Western clothes, travelers checks, and credit cards. Mohammed al-Qahtani, the purported 20th hijacker, who was denied entry to the United States on Aug. 4, 2001, at Orlando, Fla. Agence France-Presse

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