The Chinese coronavirus pandemic has once again delayed the long-awaited death penalty trial of the self-professed 9/11 mastermind and his four co-conspirators held at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the judge handling the cases revealed recently.
Justice remains elusive nearly two decades after the jihadis executed the attack that left about 3,000 people dead and over 6,000 injured, marking the deadliest assault on U.S. soil.
U.S. officials charged the late Osama bin Laden’s close ally Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) alongside his nephew, Ammar al-Baluchi, accused hijacking trainer Walid bin Attash, facilitator Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and al-Qaeda money man Mustafa al-Hawsawi with war crimes punishable by death for allegedly helping 19 hijackers carry out the heinous attack.
“Our client, this nation, deserves a reckoning,” prosecutor Edward Ryan reportedly told the court last July in pushing for a trial.
According to military commission documents, the judge handling the case since August, Army Col. Douglas Watkins, said last month:
In response to the Pandemic, the Commanders of U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Joint Task Force, Guantanamo Bay, have instituted numerous health and welfare-related restrictions (to include quarantine requirements for Commission participants) that make it impracticable for this commission to hold hearings at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay while these restrictions remain in place.
The former judge handling the case, Air Force Col. Shane Cohen, had scheduled the trial for January 2021. In March, Col. Cohen announced his retirement after presiding over the case for less than a year, further fueling the delays.
On Friday, the Washington Examiner noted:
The case’s progress came to almost a complete halt amid the pandemic due to travel and quarantine restrictions on the Caribbean island. The war court permits the five alleged 9/11 plotters to meet with their lawyers only face to face and not by phone or video conference. No hearings have been held since late February, and the trial, which had been slated to begin Jan. 11, 2021, has been postponed for a few months, if not longer, raising questions of whether jury selection will even begin before the 20th anniversary.
The case has been delayed multiple times, following unfavorable Supreme Court decisions under President George W. Bush and due to a controversial and aborted effort by President Barack Obama to try the men in federal court in New York City. The military commissions are a hybrid between a military tribunal and civilian court, authorized by the Military Commissions Act of 2009 after a prior setup was found unconstitutional. Other issues have plagued the court proceedings, including how to handle allegations of torture and the use of classified information during the trial.
It remains unclear exactly when the trial will begin. Last month, documents revealed that the military commission initially suspended all its hearings for 120 days, beginning in late March, but then delayed them further by an additional 30 days.
After canceling planned hearings for September, Judge Watkins rescheduled the proceedings to begin again in late October.
In July, the U.S. government told the court it was was “formulating a plan for the responsible resumption of hearings.”
In comments to the Combatant Status Review Tribuna made in March 2007, KSM confessed to planning the 9/11 attacks.
“I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” KSM declared. “I was the operational director for Sheikh Osama bin Laden for the organizing, planning, follow-up, and execution of the 9/11 operation.”
The 9/11 Commission report described KSM as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.”
U.S. authorities did not arraign KSM and his four co-conspirators until May 2012, more than a decade after the attacks. American service-members captured KSM in 2003 and transferred him to the GITMO prison in 2006.
Gitmo’s military tribunals have only produced eight convictions, including four overturned entirely and one partially. The remainder reportedly remains on post-trial appeal.
Of the 40 men still held at Guantanamo, two reportedly remain imprisoned after conviction, and only seven, including the five accused 9/11 attackers, face charges before the military commission.
Five prisoners approved for release by the Obama administration remain in shackles. Some of the released prisoners have re-engaged in terrorist activities.