Five of six accused over 9/11 to be tried; charges against '20th hijacker' dropped

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Five men out of six accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks have been referred to trial by the Guantanamo military commission. The war crimes tribunal also dropped charges against Mohammed Qahtani, who is alleged to have been the '20th hijacker', although they were dropped "without prejudice" so the Saudi Arabian can still be re-charged.

All six men are currently being held in maximum security at the United States naval base at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay. Under the 2006 Military Commissions Act those charged must be arraigned within 30 days and have their trial commenced within four months.

The men are accused of plotting the attacks, in which four passenger airliners were hijacked in US airspace. One was flown into each tower of the World Trade Center, one was flown into the Pentagon and the fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Almost 3,000 people were killed. 19 hijackers were involved, with one aircraft having four hijackers compared to five on the others, triggering theories concerning a 20th hijacker. It is alleged that Qahtani missed out on this role because he was unable to get past anti-immigration measures to upon arrival in Florida, where head hijacker Mohammed Atta is said to have been waiting.

Those who are set to go to trial are alleged members of Al-Qaeda, who were found to be responsible for the attacks. They are Walid bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi and alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

They have all been charged with conspiracy, murder in violation of the laws of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property, terrorism and material support for terrorism while all but Hawsawi are charged with hijacking aircraft as well.

Some concern has been made over alleged human rights abuses. Officials have said themselves that Qahtani was harshly treated in imprisonment and Khalid was subjected to waterboarding.

Qahtani also withdrew an earlier confession saying it was obtained from him under torture. He submitted a detailed written account describing abuse he alleges against him including beatings, being forced into uncomfortable positions for long periods, threats with dogs, exposure to music at high volume, being subjected to freezing temperatures and being forced to appear naked in front of female personnel.

The arraignments will take place at the high security Guantanamo war crimes tribunal, and will mark the first public appearances of the men since their capture. The trial will mark the first in front of a US war crimes tribunal since World War Two, and the first capital one at this tribunal as prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for all of the men.