The U.S. Defense Department has charged six detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay detention center with murder and war crimes in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The six include Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the attacks. All six face the death penalty. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon today, Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann announced the first sweeping charges brought against suspected conspirators in the September 11th attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
General Hartmann, the legal adviser to the U.S. military tribunal system identified the six men facing charges.
The accused are Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Waleed bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi and Mohammed al Kahtani.
Each of the defendants is charged with conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects and terrorism, among other charges.
The military is recommending that the six men be tried together before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is seeking the death penalty for all six defendants. Hartmann says the charges lay out a long-term, sophisticated plan by al-Qaida to attack the United States, coordinated by Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
"The charges allege that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks by proposing the operational concept to Osama bin Laden as early as 1996, obtaining approval and funding from Osama bin Laden for the attacks, overseeing the entire operation and training the hijackers in all aspects of the operation in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.
The charges are now being translated into all the defendants' native languages and served. The charges will then go to convening authority Judge Susan Crawford who will have sole discretion on whether to proceed with them and whether or not to seek the death penalty.
If the cases go to to trial, it will bring increased scrutiny to the military commission system, which has been criticized by civil rights groups for not providing the same legal protection as American civilian courts. Another issue is whether prosecutors will be able to use confessions or other information obtained during controversial interrogation techniques. Last week, CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed publicly for the first time that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and two other terror suspects were subjected to a procedure called "waterboarding", which simulates drowning.
Today, General Hartmann said the court will decide what evidence will be admissible.
"Let me be clear," he said. "We are a nation of law and not of men, and the question of what evidence, will be admitted, whether waterboarding or otherwise will be decided in the courts, in front of a judge, after it is fought out between the defense and the prosecution in these cases."
Hartmann stressed that the accused will receive a fair trial and said they will have virtually the same rights as U.S. military personnel, including the right to be represented in court, the right to examine all evidence used against them, and the right to call witnesses on their own behalf.
The United States is still holding some 275 men at the controversial Guantanamo detention center.