Accused Sept. 11 Planners to Face Charges

Five Guantanamo Bay detainees accused of helping plan the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be arraigned Thursday in a military courtroom at the U.S. base in Cuba. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh and three others are charged with 2,973 counts of murder.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel

Tomorrow at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. will arraign five men accused of planning and implementing the 9/11 attacks.

The men are the highest value detainees to be brought before a military court since 9/11. Among them, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has boasted that the attacks were his idea.

The men are charge with 2,973 counts of murder, one for each person killed in the attacks, if convicted they faced the death penalty.

NPR's Jackie Northam has the story from Guantanamo Bay.

JACKIE NORTHAM: U.S. Military prosecutor's like to portray tomorrow's hearings as no different than the dozen of so others that have taken place at Guantanamo Bay over the past few years. Air Force Brigadier General Tom Hartman is Legal Counsel for these military trials.

Brigadier General Thomas Hartman (U.S. Air Force, Legal Counsel): You'll see five accuse. We're going to be there with 18 defense counsel. It's going to be an amazing reflection on the American system of justice.

NORTHAM: But this is more test of the Military tribunals designed solely to prosecute suspected terrorist at Guantanamo Bay.

It's a legal system that is been plague by delays and controversy, and has been challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. But instead of trying low level bit players this time around, these five men are considered high value detainees, accused of helping plan and finance the September 11th, attacks.

Among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the U.S. Government says was the mastermind behind the 2001 terror attacks. This will be the first time he'll be seen him in public since his arrest in Pakistan more than five years ago.

Photograph showed Mohammed wearing a white undershirt looking disheveled and disoriented. Also being arraigned is Ramzi Binalshibh, suspected had been the key point man between the 9/11 hijacker's and al-Qaida.

Navy Lieutenant Rich Federico, a military defense lawyer for Binalshibh, says it will be a challenge to represent his client in an open and public trial.

Lieutenant RICH FEDERICO (U.S. Navy): The instruction and guidance we've been provided from the government thus far is every word that comes out of his mouth is classified at the top secret level. It would seemed to follow, then if they're been consistent with that, then every word he was saying on open court will also be classified at top secret level, which would mean that there will be really notability for the public to hear any word that ever came out of his mouth.

NORTHAM: Federico says, as of Monday this week, the defense had not received the prosecutions evidence against his client. Military defense lawyer city government holds back much evidence, because it's classified for national security reasons.

But the men where held and interrogated at secret CIA prisons for several years before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006. and one of the issues hanging over the hearings is whether evidence against them was extracted by torture. Under the military tribunal rules, evidence gained through torture is not admissible. It's different if it's gathered through coercion, says General Hartman.

Br. Gen. HARTMAN: It's a rule of evidence specifically to deal with the admissibility of evidence that's obtained by coercive techniques. And in order for that to be achieved, the proponent of that evidence has to show that the evidence is reliable, probative, and in the best interest of justice.

NORTHAM: It will be military judge who decides whether the evidence can be introduced. The judges overseeing earlier hearings at Guantanamo had been surprisingly independent, forcing the administration on several occasions to go back, strengthen the rules and their cases.

One theory why the military has only tried small fish at Guantanamo up until now is that they wanted to work out the many kinks in this particular legal system. And didn't want to risk losing one of the high value detainees through a mistrial.

Now, there's criticism that the Pentagon is pushing through the five high value detainees too quickly and that the prosecution is bowing to political pressure to speedup the trials.

Jeffrey Addicott is a former senior Pentagon advisor to the military commissions.

Mr. JEFFREY ADDICOTT (Former Senior Pentagon Advisor): My answer is duh, I mean we're at war, and war involves political issues from the executive branch. The executive branch should have a very active role on deciding who is a war criminal, who's going to be prosecuted, and that perfectly legitimate.

NORTHAM: Eugene Fidel, a Washington lawyer and the president of the National Institute for Military Justice, says there's more to this than executive prerogative.

Attorney EUGENE FIDEL (President, National Institute of Military Justice): I think the administration is sparing no effort to get these cases, the big cases, underway before a new administration take's office. In other words, I think the effort now is to make these cases irretrievable so that a new administration hands will be tied as to have the cases will have to move forward.

NORTHAM: Fidel says, the administration may also be putting big names like Khalid Sheik Mohammed on trial, in an effort to influence the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections, and to try to justify keeping the U.S. prison camp open.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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