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February 17, 2014

September 11 Court Case Taking Years Before Trial

by Meredith Buel

It has been six years since Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other detainees at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were first charged with murder for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  Why is it taking so long to bring them to trial? 

Justice is moving slowly for the five men charged in connection with the murder of nearly 3,000 people in the 9/11 attacks.

They are being held in a maximum security prison at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay.

Alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others are charged with plotting the assaults.

The sheer magnitude of the crime is one reason for the slow pace of the case.

Cully Stimson is an expert on military detention and commissions. “It is taking this long because these are the most complicated national security cases our country has ever attempted to try,” he stated.

Stimson said more than a half-million documents have been introduced in the 9/11 case.

He said discussions have just started on information that is classified.

Security clearances are needed for the attorneys and those assisting them.

More than 100 pretrial motions have been argued and some are taking months to resolve.

Unusual and unexpected issues have come up.

“Questions about whether or not there have been outside censors, namely the CIA, that have been listening in on the courtroom and closing the courtroom unilaterally.  Those kinds of things just don’t happen in federal civilian court,” explained law professor Jennifer Daskal.

There are currently 155 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Many have long been approved for transfer if security conditions are met.

About a third are from Yemen but remain stranded at Guantanamo because of instability at home.

President Obama has been trying to close the prison since early in his presidency and repeated that hope in this year’s State of the Union address. “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” he said.

But the prison remains open and the 9/11 case drags on.

Months went by when the Obama administration tried to move these detainees and their trials to the U.S.

But vehement opposition from the American public and some members of Congress forced the administration to return to the military court at Guantanamo.

Evidence in these terrorism cases is extremely sensitive and the military judge must take the time to decide what can be made public.

“These men were initially captured, most of them in 2003 and held for some period of time, in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad for three years in CIA black sites where he was allegedly tortured and water boarded and subjected to inhumane, cruel treatment.” stated Daskal.

Lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the other defendants continue to file motions.

They must be decided before a trial can start.

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is an egomaniac.  He knows he is never going to get out, ever.  And so he is going to do what he can to mess with the system,” said Cully Stimson.

The prosecution has proposed the trial start in January of 2015 at Guantanamo.

If there is a conviction there will be appeals.

Analysts say it could take a decade or more before the appeals are complete.