9/11 hearings in a state of legal limbo
It’s been 17 years since 19 suicide-hjackers commandeered commercial aircraft and used them as flying missiles, killing 2,976 people in the worst terror attack on American soil.
One of the great travesties of that dark time in our history is that the alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have yet to be tried. Accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices came to Guantánamo in 2006 after three and four years in CIA prisons.
The U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is today called the world’s most expensive prison for good reason. The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the base.
That amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner. As of May, there were 40 detainees.
The military commissions at Guantánamo were created by the Bush administration in 2001 to try foreign terrorism suspects in proceedings that lack the due process protections of U.S. federal courts.
But in the aftermath of Sept. 11, facing a military trial has helped the defendants delay. The five defendants have accused the government of continuing misconduct and are challenging the legality of the military commissions.
The American government’s decision to classify important evidence related to the defendants’ years in CIA prisons has been a major delay. In an attempt to force them to reveal al-Qaida secrets, waterboarding and other tactics, now illegal, were used. Only voluntary confessions are admissible at the war court, and defense attorneys are seeking sufficient evidence from the CIA black sites to argue that even un-coerced statements the defendants made to FBI agents at Guantánamo in 2007 must be excluded from trial.
The U.S. has acknowledged that Mohammed was held in secret overseas prisons after his capture where his attorneys say he was subjected to waterboarding and other cruelties.
Last month, the Washington Times explored why the cases that began years ago are still in the pretrial hearing phase. One of the people interviewed was Tami Michaels, an interior designer and radio host from Seattle who could be called as a witness in the case.
Michaels and her husband, Guy Rosbrook, were in their hotel room across the street from the World Trade Center when the first plane hit the first tower. Using a handheld camera, they recorded much of the chaos around ground zero, including graphic footage of people jumping to their deaths from the towers.
The images form a key part of the evidence for the prosecution. Seventeen years later, Michaels has watched the defense team for Mohammed, the al-Qaida militant, stall for time, looking for any reason to drag out the case.
Michaels has come away from the hearings frustrated and infuriated. She has accused defense attorneys of grandstanding and now fears that the trial of Mohammed may never be held.
David Nevin, lead attorney for Mohammed, stated in one interview that once it gets started, the trial itself could last for more than a year, followed by appeals that could take nearly two decades.
He said there’s every possibility that Mohammed will die in prison before this process is completed.
Millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on the 9/11 cases, and the trial dates of the defendants may be years away, if at all. Nevin says this puts the fate of the 9/11 defendants in a permanent state of legal limbo.
The families of the 9/11 victims were traumatized by the loss of loved ones 17 years ago. Since there has been no final closure in dealing with the perpetrators of those attacks, the pain for the victims’ families continues.
By Jim Zbick | firstname.lastname@example.org