Saturday, September 18

Twenty years later, the trial against the ‘architect’ of 9/11 returns

Correspondent in New York



Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged ‘mastermind’ of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has reappeared this week before the military court in charge of trying him. The resumption of the trial – weighed down by endless delays – occurs sandwiched between two symbolic and decisive moments of 9/11: the commemoration, this Saturday, of the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attack, the largest suffered by the United States; and the chaotic and tragic departure of the US Army from Afghanistan, after the longest war in its history, which ended in failure and which had its initial motivation in those attacks.

The trial is being held at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, where many of the suspected terrorists who devised or participated in the attacks have been detained. Mohammed sits on the bench with four other defendants: Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi and Mustafa al Hawsawi.

The reboot is itself a shadow over the process itself: a reminder that twenty years have passed, that Mohammed was arrested in 2003, and yet justice has yet to be served; a look at the torture and abuse tactics in clandestine CIA prisons outside EE.UU. and a renewed question mark about the future of the Guantanamo detention center, which Barack Obama promised to close in 2008 as a presidential candidate. Two of his terms, a presidency of Donald Trump and an arrival at the White House of his then vice president – Joe Biden – later, Guantanamo still houses detainees.

Mohammed appeared this week with a long beard dyed orange, like the last time he was seen on trial, in February of last year. It was just before the umpteenth derailment of the trial, this time for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mind behind the attack

The name most associated with 9/11 is that of Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, killed by a US Army special operations command in Pakistan in 2011. But Mohammed is considered the mind behind the attack, the one who planned the hijacking of commercial planes to crash them against the great symbols of the United States: the Twin Towers of New York, the Pentagon and, perhaps, the Capitol and the House. White.

He was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan, and transferred to one of those clandestine CIA prisons. They executed 183 drownings simulated in water, in addition to other torture, such as rectal hydration or sleep interruption. One of the defendants appeared at the trial in a special chair and with a cushion for injuries to the rectum that, according to his lawyer, were caused by those tortures. Mohammed and other defendants were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006 when the CIA practices were revealed.

The trial is part of the Guantanamo Military Commission, a procedure established in 2001, shortly after the attacks, by the president George W. Bush, and that it was later revised in 2006 and 2009. Its critics assure that the military court is unconstitutional because the accused have no legal guarantees.

Pre-trial phase

The appearances this week are a phase prior to the beginning of the trial, as there have been several already in recent years. At this time, and in another preliminary phase scheduled for November, the jury – made up of sweet military– and decide what evidence can be part of the trial.

It is held in a warehouse in Guantánamo that has been converted into a courthouse, and is attended by a small group of journalists and relatives of victims and survivors of the attacks. There will be no public access to images or sound of the trial, which can only be entered by a cartoonist to portray its protagonists. The trial itself is not expected to begin until next April.

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