Washington - Justice may be a long time coming, but more than a decade
after 11 September 2001, the alleged masterminds of the attacks are due
to get their day in court.
The five men have spent the last few years in the high-security prison on the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Saturday, the alleged terrorists led by alleged mastermind Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed are to appear before a military tribunal in Guantanamo
to hear the charges against them.
Ten years, seven months and 24
days after the suicide attacks on New York and Washington that took
nearly 3 000 lives, the proceeding is under way "to ensure that Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed and others who are accused of these heinous crimes are
brought to justice", White House spokesperson Jay Carney said.
According to the Pentagon,
the charges include terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder,
attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury and
destruction of property.
The military court is to begin with the
formal reading of the charges. A routine procedure that usually lasts
only a few minutes, in this case, with all its intricacies, the reading
is likely to be longer.
Mohammed and fellow
defendants Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed
al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash already stood before a court in
Guantanamo once, in June 2008.
Mohammed used the procedure for a stage, loudly mocking the US court system and demanding to be sentenced to death.
"This is what I want," he told the military judge. "I'm looking to be martyr for long time."
who was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan, accused then-president George W
Bush of conducting a crusade against the Muslim world. The defendant
rejected his lawyer as an agent of the US government and said he could
not accept lawyers with no knowledge of Islamic law anyway.
At that time, the main trial never got underway.
Democrat Barack Obama moved into the White House in January 2009, he
intended to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and bring suspected
terrorists before civilian courts on US soil. Obama suspended all active
military courts, and moved to try the 11 September suspects in New
However, his plans met
with strong opposition in Congress and from local authorities in New
York. So, in June, charges were again brought against the defendants in
Guantanamo, and in April the case was ordered to trial.
who in preliminary legal procedure emerged as the group's spokesperson,
could well get his wish: The prosecution is seeking the death penalty
for all five defendants.
That is a double-edged sword for the US
government, which would like to avoid making the alleged top terrorists
into martyrs in the eyes of al-Qaeda sympathisers. The dilemma,
according to Justice Department sources, is one of the reasons why the
trial was so long postponed.
The main cause of the delays,
however, is the complexity of the legal issues - first and foremost as
to what evidence is to be allowed.
According to CIA documents
made public in 2009, Mohammed underwent the interrogation method known
as waterboarding - a simulated drowning - 183 times at a secret prison
in March 2003.
The New York Times
reported that Mohammed was extremely willing to give information about
terrorist actions and plans, particularly when interrogated by a certain
How much of that was the result of mistreatment? Obama has since banned the use of waterboarding.
is regarded as a man who is prone to bragging, perhaps even about
actions in which he never took part. This, too, according to military
legal specialists, will need to be sorted out of his statements.
the prosecution's representatives remain convinced that the evidence
available for the trial will be enough to secure convictions.
The reading of the charges will only launch a series of hearings before the actual trial begins, likely next year.
it begins at all, that is. It is regarded as possible that Mohammed and
his co-defendants may plead guilty on Saturday, which would
considerably shorten proceedings.
But perhaps the five men will
insist on their innocence, as they did in 2008. Mohammed, according to
eyewitnesses of that reading of the charges, loves the limelight, and he
could again try, as he did back then, to turn the trial into a show.