(AFP) – The United States Wednesday unveiled charges against the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with four alleged plotters, vowing to seek the death penalty in a much-awaited military trial.
“The charges allege that the five accused are responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York and Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pa., resulting in the killing of 2,976 people,” the Defense Department said in a statement.
“The convening authority referred the case to a capital military commission, meaning that, if convicted, the five accused could be sentenced to death.”
The 46-year-old Mohammed, along with Walid bin Attash of Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Ramzi Binalshibh, Pakistan’s Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali — also known as Ammar al-Baluchi — and Mustapha Ahmed al-Hawsawi of Saudi Arabia are due to appear in court for arraignment proceedings within 30 days, the Pentagon said.
The trial, which could be months away, will be held at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the US government has set up special military commissions to try terror suspects.
Mohammed, who US officials refer to simply as “KSM,” has been at the center of a years long debate over how and where to prosecute the accused plotters.
After he was captured nine years ago, Mohammed was subject to harsh interrogations and repeated “water boarding,” a simulated drowning technique that has been widely condemned as torture.
His treatment in US custody has raised questions whether his statements to interrogators will hold up in a trial, but testimony from a former aide may resolve that problem.
His former deputy, Majid Khan, accepted a plea deal recently with US authorities that will require him to testify against other terror suspects, including the alleged 9/11 plotters.
President Barack Obama initially sought to hold a trial for Mohammed and his four accused accomplices in a civilian court in New York, just steps from the Ground Zero site where the World Trade Center’s twin towers fell in 2001.
But the proposal sparked criticism and Republicans in Congress put an end to those plans by blocking the transfer of terrorism suspects to the United States.
Human rights groups have slammed the Guantanamo tribunals as flawed and demanded that all those accused of terror plots be tried in a federal courts by civilian judges and juries.
The military tribunals were created under George W. Bush’s presidency after the 9/11 attacks, with officials arguing that Al-Qaeda militants fell into a special category that did not suit regular civilian courts.
Procedures for the military tribunals, also known as commissions, have since been modified by the Obama administration to make them more closely resemble civilian courts.
Mohammed and the other accused plotters were charged once before under the Bush era commissions and, now that the system has been revised, had to be formally charged again to clear the way for a trial.