The self-confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and four co-accused were due to be arraigned yesterday at Guantanamo Bay, with all facing the death penalty if convicted.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants were to be formally charged in a military tribunal with planning and executing the attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
One of the last steps before the so-called “trial of the century” takes place, the arraignment marks the second time the US has tried to prosecute the suspects.
It comes more than a decade after the most lethal attacks on US soil in modern history and about one year after US President Barack Obama ordered the US Navy SEALs raid that killed former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“There is a desire for justice. It is an important moment for all of us,” said Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for former US president George W. Bush, who has defended that administration’s use of what it called “enhanced interrogation” techniques on terror suspects — which rights groups have denounced as torture.
Mohammed would appear in the military tribunal along with Ramzi Binalshibh of Yemen, Mohammed’s Pakistani nephew Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali — also known as Ammar al-Baluchi — Walid bin Attash and Mustapha al-Hawsawi of Saudi Arabia.
The five have been held for years at the US-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while a legal and political battle has played out over how and where to prosecute them — and debates have raged over how they were treated.
It has been nine years since Mohammed’s 2003 arrest, three of which he spent in secret CIA jails, confessing to a series of attacks and plots after being subjected to harsh interrogations, including waterboarding.
In a sign of the acute public interest in the proceedings, the Pentagon has opened four military bases on US territory to allow families of the attacks’ victims to watch the case unfold on a giant screen.