Guantanamo 9/11 attacks defendants in plea negotiations: attorneys

WASHINGTON: Five men charged in the September 11, 2001 attacks, including alleged “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are in plea negotiations to resolve the longstanding capital case, defense attorneys confirmed Tuesday.

Lawyers for the five, each held for more than 15 years at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have entered into talks with prosecutors in the high-security military court “over proposed dispositions of the case,” said attorneys for one defendant, Ammar al Baluchi.

“I can confirm that plea negotiations are ongoing and that the scheduled hearing this month was cancelled for that reason,” said one of those attorneys, Alka Pradhan.

“Negotiated agreements represent one path to ending military commissions, stopping indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay, and providing justice,” she said.

The five have been embroiled in pretrial hearings for a decade, much of the jousting focused on whether they can be tried fairly after having undergone methodical torture at the hands of the CIA in the years after the 9/11 attacks.

After an 18 month delay because of the Covid-19 pandemic, late last year prosecutors said they hoped to open the formal trial this year.

But others in Guantanamo expressed doubts at that, and the move to discuss a plea deal could reflect the lack of a clear horizon for starting and completing a formal trial.

Last year, some followers of the case said that the defendants could conceivably agree to plead guilty if the death penalty was taken off the table and, after sentencing, they remain imprisoned in Guantanamo rather than be transferred to a “supermax” penitentiary inside the United States.

But families of the nearly 3,000 people who died on September 11 have strongly supported having the men executed, and the issue remains deeply emotional, as well as politically charged.

The five include Mohammed, who has admitted being deeply involved in planning and executing the plot; al-Baluchi, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

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