U.S. seeks death penalty against Sept. 11 suspects

U.S. military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for six Guantanamo Bay detainees charged Monday in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a Pentagon official said.

6 accused to receive 'fair trial consistent with American standards of justice': general

U.S. military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for six Guantanamo Bay detainees charged Monday in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a Pentagon official said.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, shown shortly after his capture in 2003, allegedly confessed to masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, as well as personally executing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. ((Associated Press))

"The chief prosecutor has requested that the charges be tried jointly and that they are referred as capital in each defendant," Brig.-Gen. Thomas Hartmann told reporters as he announced the charges.

Among those charged is Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who reportedly described himself in interrogations as the mastermind of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington.

"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z," U.S. transcripts presented in Guantanamo hearings last March quoted Mohammed as saying.

According to the transcripts, Mohammed also confessed to executing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan in 2002.

The accused face a total of 169 charges, including conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intention of causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, terrorism, and material support to terrorism, Hartmann said.

But Pearl's execution is not included in the charges, Hartmann said.

If the charges are approved, it would mark the first time detainees at Guantanamo would be charged in connection with the attacks.

This undated handout photo, made available during a news briefing in Karlsruhe, southern Germany, on Sept. 21, 2001, shows Ramzi bin al-Shibh. ((Winfried Rothermel/Associated Press))

The five others who have been charged are:

  • Mohammed al-Qahtani, the man U.S. officials have labelled the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks.
  • Ramzi bin al-Shibh, said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and leaders of al-Qaeda.
  • Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who has been identified as Mohammed's alleged lieutenant for the 2001 operation.
  • Al-Baluchi's assistant, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi.
  • Walid bin Attash, a detainee known as Khallad, who investigators allege selected and trained some of the hijackers.

The first four defendants are also charged with hijacking or hazarding an aircraft, Hartmann added. 

Evidence from 'waterboarding' to be reviewed

It would be up to the tribunal judges to determine whether evidence obtained through "aggressive" methods such as waterboarding would be admissible, said Hartmann, the legal adviser to the U.S. military tribunal system. 

The charges come amid a fierce debate in Washington over waterboarding — or strapping a person down and pouring water over his or her cloth-covered face to create the sensation of drowning.

The practice has been traced back hundreds of years, to the Spanish Inquisition and is condemned by countries around the world. Critics call it a form of torture.

Earlier this month, the Bush administration acknowledged it waterboarded Mohammed, as well as fellow al-Qaeda detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

The decision to seek the death penalty could also spark further international outcry over the troubled military tribunal process at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Hartmann said the accused would receive "a fair trial consistent with American standards of justice," but acknowledged some evidence could remain classified for reasons of national security.

"We will follow the rule of law," Hartmann said. "We will make every effort to make everything open."

A number of countries have said they would object to their nationals being held at Guantanamo to be subject to capital punishment in the heavily criticized military tribunal system, which has yet to complete a single trial. 

Original rules allowed the military to exclude the defendant from his own trial, permitted statements made under torture, and forbade appeal to an independent court; but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the system in 2006 and a revised plan has included some additional rights.

With files from the Associated Press