guantanamo terror trials

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Democracy Now! 2013-01-08 Tuesday

Four years after vowing to close Guantánamo and 11 years after it opened, President Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, barring the use of federal funds to transfer detainees from the notorious prison to U.S. soil. Of the 166 prisoners remaining at Guantánamo, 86 have been cleared for release. Obama says he signed the NDAA’s renewal despite his objections to the Guantánamo provisions and maintained in a signing statement the right to override them, but Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, says Obama’s avowal amounts to no more than a "press release."

On the 11th anniversary of Guantánamo Bay’s use as a prison for foreign detainees, we air a Democracy Now! exclusive interview with Sami al-Hajj, the only journalist held at Guantánamo. The Al Jazeera cameraman was arrested in Pakistan in December of 2001 while traveling to Afghanistan on a work assignment. Held for six years without charge, al-Hajj was repeatedly tortured, hooded, attacked by dogs and hung from a ceiling. Interrogators questioned him over 100 times about whether Al Jazeera was a front for al-Qaeda. In January 2007, he began a hunger strike that lasted 438 days until his release in May 2008. Now the head of Al Jazeera’s human rights and public liberties desk, al-Hajj sits down for a rare interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman in Doha, Qatar.

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Tags: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, guantanamo terror trials

Mohammed to Stand Trial at Guantanamo

Accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (pictured) and four suspected co-conspirators were ordered on Wednesday to stand trial before a Guantanamo war crimes tribunal on terrorism, murder and other charges in a case that could carry the death penalty, the Pentagon said.

The official overseeing the Guantanamo tribunals, retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald, referred the case to a capital military tribunal on charges of terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians and other counts, the Pentagon said.

Mohammed and the other four are accused of planning and executing the September 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. They are accused of conspiring with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other members of the group.

The decision to move to trial in a military court follows years of political and legal wrangling over whether terrorism suspects like Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators should be tried in civilian courts as criminals or before military courts as enemy combatants.

Asked on Wednesday about the decision to proceed to trial, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "It has been more than 10 years since 9/11 and the president is committed to ensuring that those who were accused of perpetrating the attacks against the United States be brought to justice."

The referral of charges comes one year after the administration abandoned efforts to try the five before a civilian court near the site of the World Trade Center attack, as President Barack Obama had promised, and shifted the case to a military tribunal at Guantanamo.

BLAMES LAWMAKERS

Attorney General Eric Holder blamed lawmakers for the policy reversal, saying their decision to block funding for prosecuting the September 11 suspects in a New York court had tied the administration's hands and forced it to move to a military trial. Congress also blocked the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for trial or for any other reason.

The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the decision to proceed with a military case, saying the administration was "making a terrible mistake by prosecuting the most important terrorism trials of our time in a second-tier system of justice."

"Whatever verdict comes out of the Guantanamo military commissions will be tainted by an unfair process and the politics that wrongly pulled these cases from federal courts, which have safely and successfully handled hundreds of terrorism trials," ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said.

"The families of those lost on 9/11 deserve justice, as do all Americans," said Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First, which favors trial in a federal court. "What Americans don't deserve is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along trial before a tribunal where the rules seem to be under constant scrutiny and revision."

The decision to refer the case to a military tribunal means the five will have to be arraigned before a military judge at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba within 30 days of their formal notification that the case will go to trial. Notification is expected to happen on Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The case has been referred to a joint trial, meaning the five will be tried together. In addition to Mohammed, the accused are Walid bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi.

James Connell, the civilian attorney for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, said in a statement that his client, a nephew of Mohammed, did not kill or plan to kill anyone and should not face the death penalty.

Ali's attorneys have said in the past that he was a computer worker in Dubai who sent money to the hijackers and was not a direct participant in planning the attacks.

"Mr. Ali would not be eligible for the death penalty if this case were tried in federal court," Connell said. "This attempt to expand the reach of the death penalty to people who neither killed nor planned to kill is another example of the second-class justice of the military commissions."

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