Wed, May 14, 2008 - Page 7 News List

'20th hijacker' gets break

AP , SAN JUAN

The Pentagon has dropped charges against a Saudi at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was alleged to have been the so-called "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks, his US military defense lawyer said on Monday.

Mohammed al-Qahtani was one of six men charged by the military in February with murder and war crimes for their alleged roles in the 2001 attacks. Authorities said al-Qahtani missed out on taking part in the attacks because he was denied entry to the US by an immigration agent.

But in reviewing the case, the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford, dismissed the charges against al-Qahtani and proceeded with the arraignment for the other five, said Army Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Broyles, the Saudi’s military lawyer.

Crawford dismissed the charges on Friday without prejudice, meaning they can be filed again later, but the defense only learned about it on Monday, Broyles said.

The attorney said he could not comment on the reasons for the dismissal until discussing the case with lawyers for the other five defendants. Officials previously said al-Qahtani had been subjected to a harsh interrogation authorized by former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, confirmed the case was proceeding against the five defendants and that their arraignment would be within 30 days of the charges being served at the US base at Guantanamo Bay.

Gordon declined further comment since the Office of Military Commissions had not yet released the formal announcement about the legal developments.

The five defendants include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks in 2001 and Ramzi Binalshibh, who is said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and al-Qaeda leaders.

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