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9/11 mastermind arraigned: Can the US deliver real, lasting justice?

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Al Qaeda's former No. 3 man, is being arraigned Saturday on 2,976 counts of murder. It's being called a modern-day Nuremberg trial that will test the fairness of US military commissions.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / May 5, 2012

At left a March 1, 2003 photo obtained by the Associated Press shows Khalid Sheikh Mohammed shortly after his capture during a raid in Pakistan. At right, a photo downloaded from the Arabic language Internet site www.muslm.net shows a man identified by the Internet site as Khalid Sheik Mohammed in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

www.muslim.net/AP

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Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-professed and self-aggrandizing mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, gets his first day in court since 2008 Saturday as the US military arraigns him on charges of murdering 2,976 civilians by ordering 19 operatives to hijack four jet liners and use them as cruise missiles against civilian and military targets in New York and Washington.

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But also on trial as KSM and four co-conspirators face a judge at the low-slung Guantánamo Bay prison complex is the US military commission system,  which was first used by President George Washington after the Revolutionary War and modified for the 9/11 terror trials after an unsuccessful bid by the Obama administration to try KSM in a civilian New York court in 2009.

“The arraignment represents more than the possibility that we might hear once again from the flamboyant and mesmerizingly evil KSM,” writes Benjamin Wittes, a national security and law expert at the Brookings Institution, in the Washington Post. “It is also likely to serve as a make-or-break test for the military commissions system, a system in which the Obama administration has – despite its initial instincts and ongoing misgivings – invested considerable prestige and energy.”

 While prosecutors say the men will receive a fair trial, some legal analysts are doubtful because of the secrecy around Gitmo and  because the power of prosecutors to challenge and void defense statements and lines of questioning is stronger under the military system.

At a previous arraignment three years ago, Mohammed acknowledged planning the attacks from “A to Z,” and said the trial process, especially if it ends in a death sentence, will make him a martyr for the cause of radical Islamism.

The fact that Mohammed is one of three captured Al Qaeda operatives on whom the CIA admits using controversial interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, will likely present one of the main challenges for the prosecution, which has said it will try Mohammed on facts, not coerced testimony.

“Some have said that any attempt to seek accountability within the military commissions system must inevitably be tainted by torture … but the law prohibits the use of any statement obtained as a result of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and we will implement the law,” Gen. Mark Martins, the military’s chief prosecutor, told the press Friday night. “It was Judge Advocate General of the Army George Davis who denounced the use of the euphemistically named ‘water cure’ during the Philippine Insurrection more than a century ago, and United States military lawyers since that time have been an important voice for the principle that confessions of an accused must be voluntary.”

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