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Homeland Security

US nears charging 6 in September 11 case

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

New York, Feb 10, IRNA
US-September 11
Military prosecutors are in the final phases of preparing the first sweeping case against suspected conspirators in the plot that led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, International Herald Tribune said.

The charges, to be filed in the military commission system at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would involve as many as six prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former senior aide to Osama bin Laden who has said he was the principal planner of the plot.

The case could begin to fulfill a longtime goal of the Bush administration: establishing culpability for the terrorist attacks of 2001. It could also help the administration make its case that some detainees at Guantanamo, where 275 men remain, would pose a threat if they are not held at Guantanamo or elsewhere.

Officials have long said that a half-dozen people held at Guantanamo played essential roles in the plot directed by Mohammed, from would-be hijackers to financiers.

But the case would also bring new scrutiny to the military commission system, which has a troubled history and has been criticized as a system designed to win convictions but that does not provide proper legal protections.

War-crimes charges against the men would almost certainly place the prosecutors in a battle over the treatment of inmates.

Lawyers have said that two of those are men whose treatment in US hands would inevitably be a focus of defense lawyers in their cases.

Mohammed was subject to the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding while in secret CIA custody, General Michael Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, confirmed in the past week.

The other detainee whose treatment could become a focus of any trial is Mohammed al-Qahtani, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2002.

Pentagon officials have said he may have been the so-called "20th hijacker." A month before the attacks, he flew from Dubai to Orlando, Florida, but was denied entry into the United States by an immigration official.

Pentagon investigators concluded in 2005 that he had been subject to abusive treatment at Guantanamo, including sleep deprivation, being forced to wear a bra and being led around on a leash.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, one of Qahtani's lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said she had no information about whether he would be charged. "But if he is," Gutierrez said, "I can assure you that his well-documented torture and the controversy over secret trials will be the focus."

One official who has been briefed on the case said the military prosecutors were considering seeking the death penalty for Mohammed, although no decision appears to have been made.

The official added that the military prosecutors had decided to focus on the September 11 attacks in part as an effort to try to establish credibility for the military commission system before a new administration takes the White House next January.

"The thinking was 9/11 is the heart and soul of the whole thing; the thinking was: Go for that," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no one in the government was authorized to speak about the case.

A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, declined to comment specifically.

But he added that the government was preparing a case against "individuals who have been involved in some of the most grievous acts of violence and terror against the United States and our allies." Ever since President George W. Bush announced in 2006 that he had transferred 14 "high value" detainees to Guantanamo from a secret CIA detention program, it has been expected that the Pentagon would eventually lodge charges involving several of the numerous terror plots to which officials say several of those men were tied.

Officials have said detainees now held at Guantanamo are responsible for attacks that killed thousands of people, including the East African US embassy bombings in 1998, the attack on the destroyer Cole in 2000 and the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002.

But it has always been clear that a case involving the September 11 plot would be the centerpiece of the military commissions system and its most stringent test.

After the US Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration's first system for military commission trials in 2006, Congress enacted a new law.

Among other things, the Military Commissions Act provides that detainees charged with war crimes are entitled to military lawyers to defend them, a presumption of innocence and a right of appeal.

But detainees' lawyers and other critics have said that many flaws remain, including the fact that the system is under Pentagon control and the judges are military officers, International Herald Tribune said.

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