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20 years later: Why 9/11 terror suspects still await trial

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More than two decades since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the alleged mastermind and four Al-Qaeda conspirators still await the formal start of any trial. The men are accused of aiding hijackers who killed 2,977 people at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Since being captured, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam Al Hawsani have been held at Guantanamo Bay, a maximum-security prison in Cuba.

The five men face charges of conspiracy, attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, murder in violation of the law of war, hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft, and terrorism.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Don Arias’s younger brother, Adam Arias, worked in the South Tower. On the morning of 9/11, Dan spoke to Adam, who described the terror he was witnessing.

“He’s like, ‘Dude, you’re not going to believe what I’m seeing here. I just saw somebody jump in the north tower, people jumping,’” Don recalled. “And I heard the background of, you know, his co-workers were just here. Gasps of horror, you know? So he says, ‘Listen, man, I gotta go. Gotta go.’ And my last words to him were, ‘Go home.’ As we hung up the phone, I was like, go home. And that was the last time I talked to him.’

Adam was one victim of this attack, and like many 9/11 victims’ family members, Don struggles to grapple with why this case is taking so long to prosecute.

Here’s a breakdown of what has happened since then:

Between 2002-2003, Sheikh Mohammed and four others were captured and held at undisclosed CIA black sites. 

While in custody, the men were tortured for information.

“I think the United States should have trusted in its legal system after 9/11 and it didn’t,” said Andy Worthington, a journalist and co-founder of the Close Guantanamo Campaign. “It engaged in a war on terror where it tore up all the rules, domestic and international rules, laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners.”

As a result, multiple political and legal fights ensued.

  • June 2006: The Supreme Court issued a 5-3 decision that the Bush administration’s use of military commissions violated Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which establishes the international law of war.
  • September 4, 2006: Sheikh Mohammed and others were transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
  • October 17, 2006: President George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, allowing the U.S. to hold people suspected of terrorism indefinitely.
  • June 5, 2008: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators arraigned in court.

Then countless pre-trial motions followed.

“You have defense teams who are saying, ‘We can’t have a fair trial unless we bring out all the evidence of everything that has happened,’ and the prosecution still trying to avoid all measures of torture,” Worthington said. 

In addition to legal and political fights, there were countless personnel changes. Judges retired or recused themselves, lawyers stepped down, and new presidents took office.

Immediately after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay. He also released the so-called “torture memos” and rescinded harsh interrogation practices carried out during the Bush administration.

Obama also suspended military commissions and tasked then-Attorney General Eric Holder with trying the 9/11 suspects in a federal court.

That move did not sit well with New Yorkers, politicians, and many 9/11 families.

“If military tribunals are good enough for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, they’re good enough to lead Sheikh Mohammed, and people like him,” Arias said. 

Then Congress intervened and passed legislation preventing the Obama administration from prosecuting war criminals in a federal court.

“Unfortunately, members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States,” former Attorney General Eric Holder said.

As a result, the Obama administration reinstated military commissions.

“And what’s been happening since then, as you know, as Obama has given way to Trump, and now we’ve got President Biden…the hearings at Guantanamo have just gone round and round like a kind of Groundhog Day,” Worthington said.

The pandemic also played a role in slowing down the judicial process. For nearly two years, attorneys had limited access to the facility.

Pre-trial hearings resumed again leading up to the 20-year anniversary of the attack.

“Every time there’s a hearing, you know, we’ve been emotionally waterboarded for 20 years,” said Arias. 

A trial is not expected until some time in 2022. If convicted, all men could face the death penalty.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: THE MORNING OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, THE WORLD STOPPED AND STARED 

AS HEINOUS ACTS OF TERROR WERE BROADCAST LIVE ON RADIOS AND T-V’S AROUND THE WORLD. 

RETIRED LT. COL. DON ARIAS: “I look at the TV in the corner of my office, and I see the North Tower smoking. So right away, my thoughts were with my little brother.”

JIMMIE: RETIRED LIEUTENANT COLONEL DON ARIAS IMMEDIATELY PHONED HIS’ BROTHER, ADAM WHO WORKED IN THE SOUTH TOWER. 

DON: “I heard a lot of commotion in the background of his co-workers. They were all at the windows. And he’s like, dude, you’re not going to believe what I’m seeing here. I just saw somebody jump in the north tower, people jumping. And I heard the background of, you know, his co-workers were just here. gasps of horror, you know? So he says, “Listen, man, I gotta go. Gotta go.” And my last words to him were, “go home.” As we hung up the phone, I was like, go home. And that was the last time I talked to him.”

JIMMIE: HIJACKERS KILLED 2,976 PEOPLE, CRASHING JETLINERS INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, THE PENTAGON, AND INTO A FIELD IN SHANKSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA. 

JIMMIE: FIVE OF THE MEN ACCUSED OF THE ATTACKS HAVE BEEN IMPRISONED FOR NEARLY TWO DECADES, AND STILL NOT BROUGHT TO TRIAL.

DELAY AFTER DELAY HAS PREVENTED 9-11 FAMILIES FROM GETTING JUSTICE. LET ME EXPLAIN.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people… (first responders yell) and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” 

JIMMIE: TWO DECADES LATER, KHALID SHEIK MOHAMMAD, THE ALLEGED ARCHITECT BEHIND THE ATTACK, ALONG WITH FOUR ACCUSED AL QAEDA CONSPIRATORS, HAVE YET TO STAND TRIAL. 

THEY ARE CHARGED WITH: CONSPIRACY; ATTACKING CIVILIANS; INTENTIONALLY CAUSING SERIOUS BODILY INJURY; MURDER IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW OF WAR; HIJACKING OR HAZARDING A VESSEL OR AIRCRAFT; AND TERRORISM.

THE FIVE WERE CAPTURED BETWEEN 2002 AND 2003. 

FOR SEVERAL YEARS, THE C-I-A HELD THE MEN AT SECRET BLACK SITES, WHERE SOME WERE TORTURED FOR INFORMATION.

ANDY WORTHINGTON: “I think the United States should have trusted in its legal system after 911 and it didn’t” 19:26 >

JIMMIE: MEET ANDY WORTHINGTON, A JOURNALIST, CO-FOUNDER OF THE CLOSE GUANTANAMO CAMPAIGN, AND A CRITIC OF THE GOVERNMENT’S ACTIONS. 

ANDY: “It engaged in a war on terror where it tore up all the rules, domestic and international rules, laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners”

JIMMIE: THE TORTURE LED TO MULTIPLE POLITICAL AND LEGAL FIGHTS. 

IN JUNE OF 2006, THE U.S. SUPREME COURT ISSUED A 5-3 DECISION THAT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION’S USE OF MILITARY COMMISSIONS VIOLATED ARTICLE THREE OF THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS WHICH ESTABLISHES THE LAW OF WAR. 

A FEW MONTHS LATER, MOHAMMAD AND OTHERS WERE TRANSFERRED TO GUANTANAMO BAY, ALSO KNOWN AS GITMO. IT OPENED DURING THE WAR ON TERROR. 

BUSH HOPED TO USE IT TO JAIL AND QUICKLY PROSECUTE ACCUSED TERRORISTS.  

IN OCTOBER, THE MILITARY COMMISSIONS ACT OF 2006 PASSED.

THIS ALLOWED THE U-S TO KEEP PEOPLE SUSPECTED OF TERRORISM INDEFINITELY. 

TWO YEARS LATER, THE CASE OF THE U-S VERSUS KHALID SHEIK MOHAMMAD AND OTHERS BEGAN. 

DEFENSE ATTORNEYS FILED COUNTLESS PRE-TRIAL MOTIONS. 

ANDY: “You have defense teams who are saying, we can’t have a fair trial unless we bring out all the evidence of everything that has happened, and the prosecution still trying to avoid all measures of torture.” 

JIMMIE: OVER THE NEXT SIX YEARS, THE SUPREME COURT WOULD RULE AGAINST BUSH’S USE OF MILITARY COMMISSIONS, WHICH VIOLATED INTERNATIONAL RULES OF WAR. 

WHILE THE MILITARY COMMISSION ACTS WOULD ALLOW THE TERROR SUSPECTS TO BE HELD INDEFINITELY AT GUANTANAMO BAY, THOSE TERROR SUSPECTS FINALLY HAD THEIR DAY IN COURT.

BUT NOT MUCH MORE THAN THAT. AS MOTION-AFTER-MOTION BROUGHT THE CASE TO A STANDSTILL.

TWO DAYS AFTER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA TOOK OFFICE, HE SIGNED AN EXECUTIVE ORDER TO CLOSE DOWN GUANTANAMO BAY AND RELEASED THE SO-CALLED “TORTURE MEMOS.” 

HE ALSO RESCINDED HARSH INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES THAT TOOK PLACE UNDER THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION. 

A FEW MONTHS LATER, OBAMA TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED MILITARY COMMISSIONS — WHICH DELAYED THE TRIAL EVEN LONGER. 

DON: “If military tribunals are good enough for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, they’re good enough to lead Sheik Mohammad, and people like him. I don’t think we need to endow Khalid Sheikh Muhammed with constitutional rights to deliver platinum-plated justice to him when he’s already confessed in court several times.”

JIMMIE: INSTEAD, ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER ANNOUNCED THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT WOULD TRY THE FIVE MEN ACCUSED IN THE 9/11 PLOT IN FEDERAL COURT.

IN A STATEMENT, HOLDER SAID, “UNFORTUNATELY, MEMBERS OF CONGRESS HAVE INTERVENED AND IMPOSED RESTRICTIONS BLOCKING THE ADMINISTRATION FROM BRINGING ANY GUANTANAMO DETAINEES TO TRIAL IN THE UNITED STATES.” 

THIS PUSHED THE CASE BACK TO MILITARY COURT. 

ANDY: “And what’s been happening since then, as you know, as Obama has given way to Trump, and now we’ve got President Biden is that the hearings at Guantanamo have just gone round and round like a kind of Groundhog Day.” 

JIMMIE: THE PANDEMIC ALSO SLOWED DOWN THE JUDICIAL PROCESS. 

FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS, IT PREVENTED PROSECUTORS AND DEFENSE ATTORNEYS FROM GAINING ACCESS TO THE REMOTE FACILITY. 

PRE-TRIAL HEARINGS ONCE AGAIN RESUMED THE WEEK LEADING UP TO THE 20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE ATTACKS. 

DON: “I think one 911 family member said it best. It’s like being emotionally waterboarded. Every time there’s a hearing, you know, we’ve been emotionally waterboarded for 20 years.”>

JIMMIE: THE TRIAL IS SCHEDULED FOR 20-22 IN A MILITARY COURT.

WHILE JUSTICE WON’T BRING BACK ADAM.

DON: “He was a wonderful guy and I miss him a lot.”

JIMMIE: IT MAY BRING SOME TYPE OF CLOSURE FOR 9/11 FAMILIES. 

DON: “He celebrated his third wedding anniversary in Jamaica. And then he came back to work.”

JIMMIE: DON FOUND OUT HIS BROTHER LED DOZENS OF PEOPLE TO SAFETY. 

DON: “He didn’t have an agenda of politics or religion or ideology or anything like that. But his agenda was really just, you know, you know, progress and prosperity. And, you know, the American dream.”

JIMMIE: WHILE HELPING OTHERS ON THE GROUND, ADAM WAS KILLED WHEN THE SOUTH TOWER COLLAPSED. 

ALL FIVE MEN COULD FACE THE DEATH PENALTY IF CONVICTED FOR THE ATTACK ON 9-11. GITMO CURRENTLY HOUSES 39 PRISONERS OF WAR, MANY HAVE NEVER BEEN CHARGED WITH A CRIME. FOR THE FEW DETAINEES WHO WENT TO TRIAL,

THEIR CHARGES WERE THROWN OUT OR THEIR CONVICTIONS WERE OVERTURNED.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE PROCESS OF DETAINING AND TRYING ACCUSED WAR CRIMINALS? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

 

 

 

More than two decades since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the alleged mastermind and four Al-Qaeda conspirators still await the formal start of any trial. The men are accused of aiding hijackers who killed 2,977 people at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Since being captured, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam Al Hawsani have been held at Guantanamo Bay, a maximum-security prison in Cuba.

The five men face charges of conspiracy, attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, murder in violation of the law of war, hijacking or hazarding a vessel or aircraft, and terrorism.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Don Arias’s younger brother, Adam Arias, worked in the South Tower. On the morning of 9/11, Dan spoke to Adam, who described the terror he was witnessing.

“He’s like, ‘Dude, you’re not going to believe what I’m seeing here. I just saw somebody jump in the north tower, people jumping,’” Don recalled. “And I heard the background of, you know, his co-workers were just here. Gasps of horror, you know? So he says, ‘Listen, man, I gotta go. Gotta go.’ And my last words to him were, ‘Go home.’ As we hung up the phone, I was like, go home. And that was the last time I talked to him.’

Adam was one victim of this attack, and like many 9/11 victims’ family members, Don struggles to grapple with why this case is taking so long to prosecute.

Here’s a breakdown of what has happened since then:

Between 2002-2003, Sheikh Mohammed and four others were captured and held at undisclosed CIA black sites. 

While in custody, the men were tortured for information.

“I think the United States should have trusted in its legal system after 9/11 and it didn’t,” said Andy Worthington, a journalist and co-founder of the Close Guantanamo Campaign. “It engaged in a war on terror where it tore up all the rules, domestic and international rules, laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners.”

As a result, multiple political and legal fights ensued.

  • June 2006: The Supreme Court issued a 5-3 decision that the Bush administration’s use of military commissions violated Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which establishes the international law of war.
  • September 4, 2006: Sheikh Mohammed and others were transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
  • October 17, 2006: President George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, allowing the U.S. to hold people suspected of terrorism indefinitely.
  • June 5, 2008: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators arraigned in court.

Then countless pre-trial motions followed.

“You have defense teams who are saying, ‘We can’t have a fair trial unless we bring out all the evidence of everything that has happened,’ and the prosecution still trying to avoid all measures of torture,” Worthington said. 

In addition to legal and political fights, there were countless personnel changes. Judges retired or recused themselves, lawyers stepped down, and new presidents took office.

Immediately after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay. He also released the so-called “torture memos” and rescinded harsh interrogation practices carried out during the Bush administration.

Obama also suspended military commissions and tasked then-Attorney General Eric Holder with trying the 9/11 suspects in a federal court.

That move did not sit well with New Yorkers, politicians, and many 9/11 families.

“If military tribunals are good enough for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, they’re good enough to lead Sheikh Mohammed, and people like him,” Arias said. 

Then Congress intervened and passed legislation preventing the Obama administration from prosecuting war criminals in a federal court.

“Unfortunately, members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States,” former Attorney General Eric Holder said.

As a result, the Obama administration reinstated military commissions.

“And what’s been happening since then, as you know, as Obama has given way to Trump, and now we’ve got President Biden…the hearings at Guantanamo have just gone round and round like a kind of Groundhog Day,” Worthington said.

The pandemic also played a role in slowing down the judicial process. For nearly two years, attorneys had limited access to the facility.

Pre-trial hearings resumed again leading up to the 20-year anniversary of the attack.

“Every time there’s a hearing, you know, we’ve been emotionally waterboarded for 20 years,” said Arias. 

A trial is not expected until some time in 2022. If convicted, all men could face the death penalty.

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