Pretrial hearings in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been accused of being the lead plotter behind the September 11 attacks, and four other detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are set to resume on Tuesday. The last in-person hearing in the case was held in February 2020.
All five detainees are accused of plotting and executing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Along with Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi are also charged in the capital case. If convicted, all five could receive the death penalty.
The charges against them announced by the US government in 2012 include “terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, and destruction of property in violation of the law of war.”
The pre-trial hearings are due to resume after a year and a half pause caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and personnel changes. This week’s hearings will be the first before the latest judge assigned to the case, Col. Matthew N. McCall, who is an Air Force judge. Since the five detainees were arraigned at Guantanamo Bay in 2012, four judges have presided over hearings in the case.
The hearings also come the week before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Several family members of victims killed in the attacks are in Guantanamo Bay to observe the hearings.
The Biden administration has said it plans to close the Guantanamo prison, where several detainees were tortured, by the end of President Joe Biden’s first term. A Moroccan man held in the prison for nearly 20 years was moved from the prison to Morocco in July, which was the first transfer of a detainee under the administration.
The trial has been plagued with issues since and before the five were arraigned at Guantanamo Bay in 2012 under the Obama administration. The US military charged Mohammed in 2008, but former President Barack Obama stopped the case as part of his effort to close the Guantanamo detention center.
The Obama administration created a military commission to handle the case instead and initially wanted the five detainees to be tried in the United States. After the administration faced a political backlash for that choice, the Obama administration decided to move forward with trying the five detainees in Guantanamo, arraigning them in 2012.
Since 2012, the case has been in a series of pre-trial hearings and litigation, moving slowly through issues that need to be resolved before it can go to trial.
Outstanding issues include what evidence the prosecution, the US government, will allow the defense to have access to and whether or not information from FBI interrogations carried out after the detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2007 is admissible at trial.
The defense argues those interrogations are tainted by torture that occurred at undisclosed locations, known as “black sites,” before the detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay and does not believe they should be allowed to be entered as evidence.
The Bush administration transferred 14 detainees, including the five in this case, who were held at undisclosed locations, or black sites, by the Central Intelligence Agency to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. President George W. Bush announced the transfer in a speech at the White House on September 6, 2006, fifteen years ago.
In the speech, Bush said, “The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it.”
This speech was the first public acknowledgement of the CIA program, where detainees were brutally tortured. The program was approved by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, as counterterrorism officials tried to obtain information about possible future attacks. The Bush administration maintained the treatment was not torture, calling it instead “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
All five detainees in this case were severely tortured.