On Friday, the Pentagon appointee for the Guantanamo war crimes court refused to drop conspiracy charges against five persons accused of plotting the September 11 attacks in spite of concerns expressed by the chief prosecutor that the conspiracy charges would not withstand appeals.
The decision signifies that the brain behind the hijacked plane attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other captives, would face a charge not recognized as a war crime at the time of the 9/11 attacks. On top of the conspiracy charges, the defendants would also face murder and other charges that might lead to their execution if convicted in the tribunal set up at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.
The prosecutors wanted to remove the conspiracy charges over concerns that they could delay the case, but the Pentagon appointee, Retired Admiral Bruce MacDonald said “dismissal at this time would be premature” as an appeal on the validity of the conspiracy charges was still pending in a Washington court.
In October, a U.S. appeals court in Washington had struck down the conviction of Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, on the ground that the charge could not be retroactively applied to events occurring in 2001 and earlier. An appeal on behalf of al Qaeda videographer Ali Hamza al Bahlul expected a similar ruling.
However, last week, the Obama administration had announced that it would carry on its court battle to uphold the conspiracy conviction of Bahlul, and on those grounds, MacDonald commented that dropping the conspiracy charges against the 9/11 accused would be “premature.”
In addition to the conspiracy charges, the defendants face seven more charges including terrorism, hijacking aircraft and the murder of 2,976 people. The mastermind, Mohammed, and his nephew Ali, are Pakistani citizens, while two are Yemeni and one Saudi.