Mon, Jun 08, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Guilty pleas weighed in some 9/11 cases: source


Guantanamo detainees facing the death penalty could plead guilty without a full trial under a plan the Obama administration is considering, a senior administration official said.

The option, one of a number being debated by a US Department of Justice-led task force, would be aimed at the five detainees accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the official, who spoke on Saturday on the condition of anonymity because the task force’s deliberations have not been made public.

It was unclear whether the option, first reported by the New York Times, was being considered for detainees other than those accused directly in the 2001 terrorist strikes.

The task force has not presented any recommendation to the White House on how to handle the remaining detainees at Guantanamo, the official said.

The five detainees wrote a letter on Nov. 4 — the day Barack Obama was elected president — saying they wanted to confess, presumably to plead guilty and face the death penalty. At least two, including the self-described mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have said they want to be executed to achieve martyrdom.

But the formal confessions were delayed when a judge ruled that two defendants could not enter pleas until the court determined their mental competency. The other three said they would also wait.

The judge, Army Colonel Stephen Henley, asked lawyers to advise him on whether the Pentagon could apply the death penalty without a jury trial.

As one of his first acts after taking office, Obama ordered Guantanamo closed by January next year. He said it had caused the US more harm than good and served as a recruitment tool for the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The Department of Justice-led task force is one of several trying to determine the best way to handle the remaining 200 or so detainees at Guantanamo.

US military commissions set up by the Bush administration to handle suspected terrorists have come under heavy criticism from legal and human rights groups. US military prosecutions employing this structure and legal rules have for the most part been put on hold since January while the Obama administration considered other options.

Obama recently approved the continued use of these commissions.

The option under review by the task force specifies that US Congress would have to clarify the uncertainty that was built into the 2006 law authorizing the creation of the military commissions. That law left unclear the question of whether guilty pleas could be accepted in capital cases conducted via the military commission format.

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