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Trial date set for 5 men responsible for 9/11 attacks – 20 years later in 2021

Alleged al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed, in detention at Guantanamo, in a 2009 file image. (Photo courtesy Jarret Brachman via Miami Herald/TNS)
August 30, 2019

A date has been set for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others charged in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

On Friday, Air Force judge Col. W. Shane Cohen set Jan. 11, 2021 as the starting date for the joint death-penalty trial of the five terrorist plotters, who will face Camp Justice military court in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, according to The New York Times on Friday.

The date signifies the first time a trial judge has set a start-of-trial date in the case. Two previous judges had not set dates, though prosecutors have requested trial dates since the defendants were arraigned in 2012.

New dates have also been set for next month to determine what evidence will be admissible in court. The examination of evidence is needed as the defense team has argued confessions by the defendants were coerced through years of torture by the C.I.A. and should be considered inadmissible.

Additional New York Times reporting states that in 2006, the F.B.I. under the Bush administration decided to question Mohammed and other members of Al Qaeda upon Mohammed’s arrival at the Guantánamo Bay facility. The F.B.I. sent legally “clean teams” to gather statements from the defendants, separate from the C.I.A. interrogation, in order to ensure that their confessions would be seen as lawful before a court.

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Though the various defendants made their confessions to the F.B.I. in the separate interrogations, the defense team has claimed they have evidence the F.B.I. played a role in the C.I.A. interrogations by feeding questions for the interrogators, and the C.I.A. maintained a role even after the transfer to Guantánamo Bay.

As a result of these claims, the defense is arguing these confessions sourced from the F.B.I. could not be distinguished from those confessions made to the C.I.A. and remain inadmissible.

“The clean teams were a fiction from the very beginning,” Cheryl Bormann, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said.

The first allegations of collaboration between F.B.I. and C.I.A. officials appeared late in 2017, according to the New York Times reporting. The first judge, Col. James L. Pohl, initially excluded the F.B.I. interrogations last summer. Jeffrey D. Groharing, a federal prosecutor convinced the second judge, Marine Col. Keith A. Parrella, to reinstate the evidence. The decision on the evidence now rests with Col. Cohen.

No additional reporting appears to describe the reason for the newly announced trial dates.

Mohammed is described by prosecutors as the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks wherein 19 men hijacked and crashed four commercial airliners. The other four men are alleged to have provided material support to the hijackers, including funding and training.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks began at 8:46 a.m. with the first plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A second plane struck the South Tower 17 minutes later, followed by a third plane striking the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth plane crashed into an empty Pennsylvania Field at 10:03 a.m.

According to flight data from the fourth plane, passengers aboard United Flight 93 fought back against the hijackers, forcing the fourth plane to crash in the empty field, preventing the plane from reaching its intended target.

The effort to bring justice to the 2,976 victims may not come to a quick close even after the nearly two decades following the terrorist attacks.