Hours earlier than daybreak on March 1, 2003, the US scored its most thrilling victory but in opposition to the plotters of the September 11 assaults – the seize of a dishevelled Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, hauled away by intelligence brokers from a hideout in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
The worldwide manhunt for al-Qaeda’s quantity three chief had taken 18 months. However the US’s try and deliver him to justice, in a authorized sense, has taken a lot, for much longer. Critics say it has turn out to be one of many “war on terror’s” biggest failures.
As Sunday’s twenty first anniversary of the assaults approaches, Mohammed and 4 different males accused of 9/11-related crimes nonetheless sit in a US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, their deliberate trials earlier than a army tribunal endlessly postponed.
The newest setback got here final month when pretrial hearings scheduled for early fall have been cancelled. The delay was yet one more in a string of disappointments for family members of the practically 3,000 victims of the assault. They’ve lengthy hoped a trial would deliver closure and maybe resolve unanswered questions.
“Now, I’m unsure what’s going to occur,” stated Gordon Haberman, whose 25-year-old daughter Andrea died after a hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Commerce Heart, a ground above her workplace.
He has travelled to Guantanamo 4 occasions from his residence in West Bend, Wisconsin, to observe the authorized proceedings in particular person, solely to go away annoyed.
“It’s vital to me that America lastly will get to the reality about what occurred, the way it was accomplished,” stated Haberman. “I personally need to see this go to trial.”
If convicted at trial, Mohammed might face the loss of life penalty.
When requested concerning the case, James Connell, a lawyer for one among Mohammed’s co-defendants – one accused of transferring cash to 9/11 attackers – confirmed experiences either side are nonetheless “trying to achieve a pretrial settlement” that might nonetheless keep away from a trial and end in lesser however nonetheless prolonged sentences.
David Kelley, a former US lawyer in New York who co-chaired the Justice Division’s nationwide investigation into the assaults, referred to as the delays and failure to prosecute “an terrible tragedy for the households of the victims”.
He referred to as the hassle to place Mohammed on trial earlier than a army tribunal, reasonably than within the common US court docket system, “an amazing failure” that was “as offensive to our structure as to our rule of legislation”.
“It’s an amazing blemish on the nation’s historical past,” he stated.
The issue in holding a trial for Mohammed and different Guantanamo prisoners is partly rooted in what the US did with him after his 2003 seize.
Mohammed and his co-defendants have been initially held in secret prisons overseas. Hungry for data that may result in the seize of different al-Qaeda figures, CIA operatives subjected them to “enhanced interrogation methods” that have been tantamount to torture, human rights teams say. Mohammed was waterboarded – made to really feel that he was drowning – 183 occasions.
A Senate investigation later concluded the interrogations didn’t result in any helpful intelligence. However it has sparked countless pretrial litigation over whether or not FBI experiences on their statements can be utilized in opposition to them – a course of not topic to speedy trial guidelines utilized in civilian courts.
The torture allegations led to issues the US may need ruined its likelihood to place Mohammed on trial in a civilian court docket.
However in 2009, President Barack Obama’s administration determined to attempt, saying Mohammed can be transferred to New York Metropolis and placed on trial at a federal court docket in Manhattan. “Failure shouldn’t be an choice,” Obama stated.
However New York Metropolis baulked at the price of safety and the transfer by no means got here. Finally, it was introduced Mohammed would face a army tribunal. After which greater than a dozen years handed.
‘Proof goes stale’
Kelley stated speak of army tribunals 20 years in the past stunned many within the authorized neighborhood who had been efficiently prosecuting terrorism instances within the decade earlier than. The idea of a tribunal, he stated, “got here out of the blue. No one knew it was coming.”
Then-Lawyer Common John Ashcroft was not in favour of tribunals and had been supportive of the Manhattan federal terrorism prosecutions, he stated.
Now, Kelley stated, with the passage of time it is going to be rather more tough to prosecute Mohammed in a tribunal, a lot much less a courtroom. “Proof goes stale, witness reminiscences fail.”
The passage of time has not dulled the reminiscences of the victims’ households or dampened their curiosity in witnessing justice.
Eddie Bracken’s sister Lucy Fishman was killed on the World Commerce Heart. The New Yorker opposed Obama’s proposal to maneuver the trial to federal court docket – Mohammed is charged with “a army act” and must be tried by the army, he reasoned. Whereas he’s considerably annoyed by the delays, he understands them.
“The entire world is us and saying, ‘What are they doing in any case this time?’” he stated. However he realises the case is “a course of that the world is seeing, that must be accomplished underneath a microscope … It’s as much as the US to do their due diligence, ensure it’s accomplished proper.
“The wheels of justice flip. They flip slowly, however they flip. And when the time comes, and it’s stated and accomplished, the world will know what occurred,” stated Bracken.
Investigators with the army fee at Guantanamo Bay stated he plotted the 9/11 assaults for 3 years. They cited a pc exhausting drive seized at his arrest, which they stated contained pictures of the 19 hijackers, three letters from bin Laden, and details about some hijackers.
Mohammed, at his tribunal listening to, conceded in a written assertion that he swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, that he was on al-Qaeda’s council, and that he served as operational director for bin Laden for the organising, planning, follow-up and execution of the September 11 plot “from A to Z”.
Based on the assertion, he additionally took credit score for the 1993 bombing of the World Commerce Heart; an try and down US jetliners utilizing bombs hidden in sneakers; the bombing of a nightclub in Indonesia; and plans for a second wave after the 2001 assaults targetting landmarks such because the Sears Tower in Chicago and Manhattan’s Empire State Constructing.
He additionally claimed credit score for different deliberate assaults, together with assassination makes an attempt in opposition to then-President Invoice Clinton in 1994 or 1995 and an assassination plot in opposition to Pope John Paul II at about the identical time, the assertion stated.
‘Language of struggle’
Mohammed’s practically 20 years in authorized limbo differs from the destiny of his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Commerce Heart bombing that killed six individuals, wounded 1,000 others, and left a crater within the parking storage beneath the dual towers.
Yousef is serving life in prison after being convicted at two separate civilian trials. He was additionally captured in Pakistan, in 1995, however was delivered to the US for trial.
On the time, Yousef stated his proper to kill individuals was corresponding to the US resolution to drop a nuclear bomb in World Warfare II. Mohammed has supplied the same justification, saying by an interpreter at a Guantanamo continuing that killing individuals was the “language of any struggle”.
Bracken travelled to Guantanamo in 2012 to observe one listening to for Mohammed and his co-defendants, and would most likely go once more if a trial ever occurred.
“I don’t know if I need to go there once more to deliver again all of the harm and ache. But when I’m allowed to go then I assume I’d go. Yeah. My sister would do this for me.
“She’s that kind of a girl,” he added. Then he corrected himself: “She was that kind of a girl.”