The United States issued charges on Wednesday against the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, along with four alleged plotters, setting the stage for a much-awaited military trial.
“The charges allege that the five accused are responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York and Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pa., resulting in the killing of 2,976 people,” the Defense Department said in a statement.
The five - Mohammed, along with Walid bin Attash of Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Pakistan’s Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (also known as Ammar al-Baluchi) and Mustafa al-Hawsawi of Saudi Arabia - are charged with terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war and other counts, and were referred to a capital military tribunal.
They could be sentenced to death if convicted, the Pentagon said.
The decision to refer the case to a military commission means the five will be arragned before a military judge at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba within 30 days.
The referral of charges comes one year after President Barack Obama’s administration abandoned efforts to try Mohammed and his four co-conspirators before a civilian court as he had promised and shifted the case to a military tribunal.
Attorney General Eric Holder blamed lawmakers for the policy reversal, saying their decision to block funding for prosecuting the Sept. 11 suspects in a New York court had tied the administration’s hands and forced it to move to a military trial.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the decision on Wednesday to proceed with a military trial.
“The Obama administration is making a terrible mistake by prosecuting the most important terrorism trials of our time in a second-tier system of justice,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement.
“Whatever verdict comes out of the Guantanamo military commissions will be tainted by an unfair process and the politics that wrongly pulled these cases from federal courts, which have safely and successfully handled hundreds of terrorism trials,” he said.