The New York Times
Military prosecutors have decided to seek the death penalty for six Guantanamo detainees who are to be charged with central roles in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, government officials who have been briefed on the charges said Sunday.
The officials said the charges would be announced at the Pentagon as soon as today and were likely to include numerous war-crimes charges against the six men, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former al-Qaida operations chief who has described himself as the mastermind of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
A Defense Department official said prosecutors were seeking the death penalty because, “if any case warrants it, it would be for individuals who were parties to a crime of that scale.” The officials spoke anonymously because no one in the government was authorized to speak about the case.
A decision to seek the death penalty would increase the international focus on the case and present new challenges to the troubled military commission system that has yet to begin a single trial.
“The system hasn’t been able to handle the less-complicated cases it has been presented with to date,” said David Glazier, a former Navy officer who is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
In addition to Mohammed, the other five to be charged include detainees officials say were coordinators and intermediaries in the plot, among them a man labeled the “20th hijacker,” who was denied entry to the United States in the month before the attacks. Under the rules of the Guantanamo war-crimes system, the military prosecutors can designate charges as capital when they present them, and it is that first phase of the process that’s expected this week. The military official who then reviews them, Susan Crawford, a former military appeals court judge, has the authority to accept or reject a death-penalty request.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment Sunday.
QUESTION OF CARRYING OUT EXECUTION
But some of those briefed on the case have said the prosecutors view their task in seeking convictions for the Sept. 11 attacks as a historic challenge. A special group of military and Justice Department lawyers has been working on the case for several years.
Even if the detainees are convicted on capital charges, any execution would be many months or, perhaps years, from being carried out, lawyers said, in part because a death sentence would have to be scrutinized by civilian appeals courts.
Federal officials have said in recent months that there’s no death chamber at the detention camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that they knew of no specific plans for how a death sentence would be carried out.
The last military execution was in 1961, when an Army private, John A. Bennett, was hanged after being convicted of rape and attempted murder.