Five alleged conspirators in the September 11 attacks, who are on trial at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have told the judge they want to confess, and have withdrawn all legal motions filed as part of their defense.
In the specially built courtroom at Guantanamo, the judge, a U.S. Army colonel, read a letter from the five defendants in which they request a special hearing so they can confess to their involvement in the attacks, which killed 2,973 people.
The judge said he would question each of the defendants to be sure they understand the implications of their plan, which would likely lead to formal convictions and could result in death sentences.
Several of the men, including the most prominent among them, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, previously told the court they were involved in the attacks and have said they want to be executed, achieving what they consider martyrdom.
Detainee group led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seeks martyrdom
According to their letter, they decided to make this move on November 4, the day Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Mr. Obama has said he wants to close the Guantanamo detention center and will take a fresh look at the controversial military commissions system in which the men are being tried.
Several experts said the defendants may believe their chance at martyrdom is slipping away. But Joanne Mariner at Human Rights Watch says that may not be a bad thing.
"What Khalid Sheikh Mohamed wants is martyrdom," said Mariner. "And why should we hand him martyrdom on a platter in a way that can be seen in the wider Muslim world as an unfair process. Why not give him a fair process, and then whatever result comes out of it will be recognized as fair."
Rights group urges trials to continue in regular U.S. courts
Mariner says Human Rights Watch wants all the detainees at Guantanamo moved to prisons in the United States and tried in regular U.S. civilian or military courts. Some could still face the death penalty in those courts, but it might be more difficult for prosecutors to meet all the criteria.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the latest developments at Guantanamo. But officials say the military commissions will continue as scheduled until they receive different orders, which could come from the new president after he takes office January 20.
At Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner also expressed concern that some or all of the defendants in the September 11 case may have been coerced into offering to confess. During their last court appearance in June, the U.S. military lawyers assigned to some of the defendants charged that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had intimidated their clients into joining him in a defiant stance toward the court.
The other defendants in the September 11 conspiracy trial are Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi, Walid bin Attash and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.