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Terrorism & Security

9/11 trial to resume at Guantánamo, ending quest for civilian trial

The Pentagon yesterday authorized five 9/11 suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to be tried in a military commission on the US base in Guantánamo Bay.

By Staff writer / April 5, 2012

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is seen after his arrest in this 2003 file photo. The accused September 11 mastermind and four suspected co-conspirators were referred on April 4 to trial before a Guantanamo war crimes tribunal on charges that could carry the death penalty, the Pentagon said.

U.S. News & World Report/REUTERS/File

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The military trial for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others suspected of playing a role in the attacks will resume at Guantanamo Bay after authorization yesterday from a Pentagon official, formally ending the Obama administration's quest to have the five men tried in a civilian court.

The United States has been vociferously debating the proper way to handle detainees such as Mr. Mohammed, who has claimed responsibility for plotting the 9/11 attacks, particularly the question of whether he and the other men should be tried in a civilian court as criminals or in a military court as enemy combatants.

The Obama administration tried to move the case into a federal court in New York, but faced fierce congressional and local opposition. In April 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder said he was "reluctantly" pushing the case back to the military, the Washington Post reports. An arraignment will be held at Guantánamo next month.

All five suspects – four of whom played lesser roles such as training or coordinating logistics – could be handed down death sentences, The Christian Science Monitor reports. In addition to Mohammed, they include Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi.

Several issues already addressed will have to be litigated once again because the trial is beginning anew. Among them are three of the suspects' request for self-representation and evaluation of the mental health and capacity of two of the suspects, according to the Post. The five men all face the possibility of the death penalty for the litany of charges against them: terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy, and murder in violation of the law of war, among others.

The case has been controversial for other reasons as well, such as the methods used for gaining information. The men were held in secret CIA prisons before being sent to Guantánamo, where the CIA admitted to waterboarding Mohammed during interrogation. 

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