Alleged Architects of 9/11 Attacks May Avoid Death Penalty, Court Reveals
WASHINGTON – The alleged mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his fellow defendants may never face the death penalty under potential deals being considered to end their over decade-long prosecution, the court disclosed. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the Pentagon and FBI notified several families of the victims about the possibility of negotiated resolutions to the case.
The prosecution of Mohammed and four other detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba has faced numerous delays and legal conflicts, particularly regarding the legal consequences of the initial torture interrogations they endured while in CIA custody. As of now, no trial date has been set.
“The Attorney General’s Office has been negotiating and studying the possibility of reaching pre-trial agreements,” stated the letter. While it clarified that no settlement has been reached yet, it also suggested that a pre-trial agreement could eliminate the death penalty.
The prospect of ending the case without reaching a verdict has sparked outrage among some relatives of the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. Military prosecutors, however, have promised to take these concerns into account and present them to the military authorities who will make the final decision on whether to accept any plea bargain.
The families received the letter, dated August 1, this week, and were requested to respond to the FBI’s victim services division by Monday if they had any comments or questions about the potential plea deal. The FBI declined to comment on the matter.
On September 11, 2001, militants associated with the group Al Qaeda hijacked planes to use as missiles, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane was headed for the capital but crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers intervened.
According to the 9/11 Commission, it was Mohammed who initially proposed the idea of such an attack to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden authorized the plot, with the four other defendants allegedly providing support to the hijackers in various capacities.
The attacks triggered the United States‘ “war on terror,” which included the invasions and lengthy wars in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based, and Iraq, despite its lack of connection to the attacks.
Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son on 9/11, expressed his deep frustration with the case remaining unresolved 14 years later. Riches received the government’s letter on Monday and reacted with bitter laughter. He questioned the faith one could have in the system, stating that justice still seems far away.
“No matter how many letters they send, until I see it, I won’t believe it,” asserted Riches, now a retired New York deputy fire chief. While initially open to the idea of military courts, he now believes that the process has failed and that the 9/11 defendants should be tried in civilian courts.
Although the Obama administration once considered this option, it was abandoned due to opposition from some victims’ families, Congress members, and concerns from city officials about the high security costs. Riches pointed out that 22 years have passed, and those responsible are still alive, while their loved ones are dead.
Other relatives, who are part of a network of 9/11 families seeking answers and accountability, assert that any plea agreement must allow their lawyers to question the defendants about potential involvement of Saudi officials in the attacks. Saudi Arabia denies the involvement of senior Saudi officials.
Peter Brady, whose father was killed in the attack and received the letter this week, emphasized the importance of holding people accountable and condemned the potential resolution through a plea agreement. The families insist that the legal process must be followed.
The 9/11 hearings are currently on hold while military officials assess the mental competency of one of the defendants. The hearings are scheduled to resume on September 18.
The five defendants were apprehended at various times and locations in 2002 and 2003 before being sent to Guantanamo for trial in 2006.
The case has unfolded with changing defense attorneys and judges, all dealing with the legal and logistical complexities of the military trial. Much of the proceedings have been entangled in debates about the admissibility of testimony due to the torture the defendants experienced during their years in CIA custody. This includes Mohammed’s waterboarding a staggering 183 times.