By Colin Freeman | The Telegraph
US military prosecutors are putting the finishing touches to the first major case against Guantanamo Bay inmates suspected to have helped plot the September 11 attacks.
The charges are expected to involve six detainees currently held at the Cuban detention camp, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former senior aide to Osama bin Laden, who claims to have been the main architect of the plot.
The prosecution, which will permit a crucial trial in the US-led war on terror, is intended to bolster Washington’s argument that the 275 remaining inmates at Guantanamo would pose a threat to US national security were they to be freed, the New York Times reported today.
One US official familiar with the case told the newspaper: “The thinking was 9/11 is the heart and soul of the whole thing. The thinking was: go for that.”
However, any trial will put the spotlight once again on claims of mistreatment and torture brought by some of the inmates, who as designated “enemy combatants” of the US were denied basic legal rights that would normally afforded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.
Last week, for example, the CIA confirmed that Mr Mohammed had at times been subjected to the interrogation technique known as “waterboarding”, in which suspects have water poured into their breathing passages in order to simulate a sense of drowning.
The CIA claimed it was carried out on him in the belief that he had knowledge about further large-scale terrorist attacks. A second suspect thought to be among the six, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was subjected to sleep deprivation, forced to wear a bra, and led around Guantanamo Bay on a leash, according to a 2005 Pentagon investigation into claims of abusive treatment.
Al-Qahtani, who been held at Guantanamo since 2002, is said to have been the so-called “20th hijacker”, whose plans were thwarted when he was denied entry into the United States by an immigration official.
Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer acting for Mr al-Qahtani, told The New York Times that she had no information about whether he would be charged.
“But if he is,” she added, “I can assure you that his well-documented torture and the controversy over secret trials will be the focus.”
Prosecutors are understood to be considering charges of murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism against the defendants, although it is thought that any trial is still many months away.
The only person who has so far been tried in a US court over the September 11 plot is Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 2005 and is serving a life jail term.
All the British inmates held in Guantanamo Bay have been released.