Accused 9/11 Plotters in Talks to Avoid Death Penalty Trial

Five co-defendants accused of planning the September 11 attacks are reportedly in talks with prosecutors in the U.S. over a potential plea deal that would see them plead guilty in order to avoid trial and the death penalty. 

Negotiations are underway for the potential agreement, which would bring to a close what is considered the biggest criminal case in American history. 

The five defendants were first charged in 2008 with plotting or logistically supporting the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The terrorist attacks led to the murder of almost 3,000 people in the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in DC, and in a field in Pennsylvania. 

For more than a decade, pre-trial procedures have been underway, under the so-called military commissions that were devised especially for the terror suspects. But they have been consistently bogged down in disputes, both technical and ethical. 

There has been a long-running debate over whether defendants could ever even receive a “fair trial” given the torture to which they were subjected. All five were tortured in secret CIA prisons, known as “black sites,” and the torture was referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Details of the torture surfaced this week in new court filings. 

The five defendants are Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who says he was the mastermind of 9/11; Mohammed’s nephew Ammar al-Baluchi; Walid bin Attash, who allegedly helped train two of the 19 hijackers; Ramzi bin al-Shibh, accused of organizing logistics; and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, who allegedly arranged finances. 

If a deal is finally reached with a possible guilty plea, it could have significant consequences, extending beyond the five defendants, and including consequences for the future of Guantanamo Bay. 

One key demand is that the defendants be allowed to serve their full sentences at Guantanamo. This may mean that the U.S. government has to keep the military prison open. Biden has expressed a desire to close the prison, but whether that will happen remains an elusive idea.

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