U.S. to Try 6 On Capital Charges Over 9/11 Attacks
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The Bush administration announced yesterday that it intends to bring capital murder charges against half a dozen men allegedly linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, based partly on information the men disclosed to FBI and military questioners without the use of coercive interrogation tactics.
The admissions made by the men -- who were given food whenever they were hungry as well as Starbucks coffee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- played a key role in the government's decision to proceed with the prosecutions, military and law enforcement officials said.
FBI and military interrogators who began work with the suspects in late 2006 called themselves the "Clean Team" and set as their goal the collection of virtually the same information the CIA had obtained from five of the six through duress at secret prisons.
To ensure that the data would not be tainted by allegations of torture or illegal coercion, the FBI and military team won the suspects' trust over the past 16 months by using time-tested rapport-building techniques, the officials said.
Though long expected, the Pentagon's announcement means that the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks -- Khalid Sheik Mohammed -- and five others accused of taking part in the associated training, financing and logistical preparations could face a military jury before the end of President Bush's term, something the administration has made a priority.
Prosecutors recommended to senior officials that the men be tried jointly and they asked Susan Crawford, the convening authority for military commissions, to approve the death penalty. Preliminary hearings could begin within a month.
Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, Crawford's legal adviser, said yesterday that the charges "allege a long-term, highly sophisticated, organized plan by al-Qaeda to attack the United States of America."
Mohammed is alleged to have masterminded the plot in consultation with Osama bin Laden. The five others -- Walid bin Attash (also known as Tawfiq bin Attash), Ramzi Binalshibh, Ammar al-Baluchi, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Mohammed al-Qahtani -- are accused of helping to finance and facilitate the attack. Hartmann said there have not been discussions about charging bin Laden.
An unanswered question is whether the FBI and military interrogators could have extracted the same information without a road map from the CIA indicating what they might say. It also remains unknowable whether the detainees would have responded to a friendly approach without first receiving more aggressive treatment.
Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents one of the detainees charged and many more at Guantanamo Bay, said the cases are "essentially show trials, as President Bush is leaving his tarnished legacy to the next president." He added: "They are being used to justify six years of lawlessness and barbarity this government has been doing."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush played no role in deciding which detainees would be prosecuted, or in deciding to pursue the death penalty. "The White House was not involved," she said. "They made the decision to bring the charges today because, as they said, they were ready to do so."
Officials said most of the detainees talked to FBI and military interrogators, some for days, others for months, while one or two rebuffed them. The men were read rights similar to a standard U.S. Miranda warning, and officials designed the program to get to the information the CIA already had gleaned by using waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other techniques such as sleep deprivation, forced standing and the use of extreme temperatures.