Defense Department Seeks Death Penalty for Six Guantanamo Bay Detainees
By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2008 The Defense Department announced today it has sworn criminal charges and is seeking the death penalty against six detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The detainees charged include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and five others charged in connection with the attacks, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, legal advisor to the convening authority in DoD’s Office of Military Commissions, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Besides Mohammed, those charged are: Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarek bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi, and Mohamed al-Kahtani. All six detainees are being charged with conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians and civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, terrorism, and providing material support for terrorism.
Mohammed, bin Attash, Binalshibh, and Aziz Ali also are charged with the substantive offense of hijacking or hazarding a vessel, Hartmann said.
“These charges allege a long-term, highly sophisticated, organized plan by al Qaeda to attack the United States,” Hartmann said.
The chief prosecutor, who submitted the charges, has recommended that the six detainees be tried jointly and that the case be referred as capital for each defendant. Now that the charges are sworn, the convening authority, Susan Crawford, will review the charges and supporting evidence to determine whether probable cause exists to refer the case for trial by military commission and whether the case should be capital, Hartmann said.
If Crawford does refer the case to trial, it will take place at Guantanamo Bay, and the Defense Department will make the hearings as open as possible, Hartmann said. He emphasized that the charges today represent allegations only, and the detainees are innocent until proven guilty.
The charge sheet details 169 overt acts allegedly committed by the defendants in the planning and execution of the Sept. 11 events. The charges allege that:
-- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks by proposing the operational concept to Osama bin Laden as early as 1996, obtaining approval and funding from bin Laden for the attacks, overseeing the entire operation, and training the hijackers in all aspects of the operation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
-- Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarek bin Attash administered an al Qaeda training camp in Logar, Afghanistan, where two of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were trained. He is also alleged to have traveled to Malaysia in 1999 to observe airport security by U.S. air carriers to assist in formulating the hijacking plan.
-- Ramzi Binalshibh lived with the Hamburg, Germany, al Qaeda cell where three of the Sept. 11 hijackers resided. It is alleged that Binalshibh was originally selected by bin Laden to be one of the Sept. 11 hijackers and that he made a “martyr video” in preparation for the operation. He was unable to obtain a U.S. visa and, therefore, could not enter the United States as the other hijackers did. In light of this, it is alleged that Binalshibh assisted in finding flight schools for the hijackers in the United States and continued to assist the conspiracy by engaging in numerous financial transactions in support of the Sept. 11 operation.
-- Ali Abdul Aziz Ali’s role included sending about $120,000 to the hijackers for their expenses and flight training and facilitating travel to the United States for nine of the hijackers.
-- Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi assisted and prepared the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler’s checks and credit cards. He is also alleged to have facilitated the transfer of thousands of dollars between the accounts of alleged Sept. 11 hijackers and himself on Sept. 11, 2001.
-- Mohamed al-Kahtani attempted to enter the United States on Aug. 4, 2001, through Orlando (Fla.) International Airport, where he was denied entry. It is also alleged that Kahtani carried $2,800 in cash and had an itinerary listing a phone number associated with Hawsawi.
In addition to the right to examine evidence used against them, including classified evidence, Hartmann noted that detainees in the military commissions process also have many other rights, including the right to remain silent, the right to representation by a detailed military counsel or civilian counsel at no expense to the government, the right to obtain evidence and call witnesses on their own behalf, the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and the right to be present during presentation of evidence.
In the case of a capital offense, a military commission panel composed of at least 12 members will determine a detainee’s guilt, and the detainee has the right to appeal the panel’s decision first to the Court of Military Commission Review, then through the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“These rights are guaranteed to each defendant under the Military Commission Act and are specifically designed to ensure that every defendant receives a fair trial, consistent with American standards of justice,” Hartmann said.
Hartmann gave no possible timeline for the trials, but said that if Crawford does refer the cases to trial, the military commission will have 30 days to arraign the accused detainees, and 120 days to start the trial.
Classified evidence may need to be presented during the trial, but the decision to use any evidence, including that obtained through interrogation, will be made by the military judge in the case based on the recommendations of the prosecution and defense, Hartmann said.
“We are a nation of law and not of men, and the question of what evidence will be admitted, … will be decided in the courts in front of a judge after it’s fought out between the defense and the prosecution in these cases,” he said. “That’s the rule of law; that’s the procedure the Congress has provided to us; and that’s what we will use to finally answer these questions.”
Hartmann noted that the sequence of events used in charging detainees at Guantanamo Bay is very similar to that used in charging U.S. servicemembers in military courts.
“It's our obligation to move the process forward, to give these people their rights,” he said. “We are going to give them rights. We are going to give them rights that are virtually identical to the rights we provide to our military members, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who fight in the battlefield, and I think we'll all agree are national treasures.”