US

9/11 mastermind and co-conspirators may avoid death penalty in new plea deal

The suspected main conspirator of the 9/11 terror attacks and his fellow defendants may never face the death penalty due to plea agreements being considered by the prosecution and defence lawyers.

The prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has been repeatedly disrupted, especially due to legal reasons over their interrogation under torture that the men underwent while in CIA custody.

As a result of the delays, it has taken more than a decade to reach a verdict, as families of the September 2001 attack victims wait for a decision.

It was Mohammed who presented the idea of such an attack on the US to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the United States’ 9/11 Commission concluded.

The investigation also found Mohammed received authorisation from bin Laden to mastermind the 9/11 attacks, while the four other men are alleged to have supported the hijackers in various ways.

The Pentagon and FBI sent the update of the plea consideration to several families of the victims in a letter.

It said: “The Office of the Chief Prosecutor has been negotiating and is considering entering into pre-trial agreements (PTAs).”

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It told the families that while no plea agreement “has been finalised, and may never be finalised, it is possible that a PTA, in this case, would remove the possibility of the death penalty”.

The news came as a disappointment to the relatives of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed by the suicide attackers who hijacked planes, flying them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon HQ in Washington and crashing one in a Pennsylvania field.

The World Trade Center shortly after the attack
Image:
The World Trade Center shortly after the attack

‘Those guys are still alive. Our children are dead’

Jim Riches, who lost his son Jimmy in 9/11, went to Guantanamo for pre-trial hearings in 2009.

14 years later, his disillusionment was clear upon receiving the letter.

Mr Riches said: “How can you have any faith in it?”

“No matter how many letters they send, until I see it, I won’t believe it,” he said.

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He was initially open to the use of military tribunals but now feels that the process is failing and that the 9/11 defendants should be tried in civilian court.

Poignantly, he added: “Those guys are still alive. Our children are dead.”

Peter Brady, whose father was killed in the attack argued that the case needed to go through “the legal process” and not a plea deal.

It’s about “holding people responsible, and they’re taking that away with this plea,” Mr Brady said.

The five defendants were captured at various times and places in 2002 and 2003 and sent to Guantanamo for trial in 2006.

No date for a trial has been set.

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