9 dec. 2008

Alleged 9/11 Plotters Offer to Confess at Guantánamo

The five Guantánamo detainees charged with coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks told a military judge on Monday that they wanted to confess in full, a move that seemed to challenge the government to put them to death.
The request, which was the result of hours of private meetings among the detainees, appeared intended to undercut the government’s plan for a high-profile trial while drawing international attention to what some of the five men have said was a desire for martyrdom.
But the military judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley of the Army, said a number of legal questions about how the commissions are to deal with capital cases had to be resolved before guilty pleas could be accepted.
The case is likely to remain in limbo for weeks or months, presenting the Obama administration with a new issue involving detainees at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay to resolve when it takes office next month.
At the start of what had been listed as routine proceedings Monday, Judge Henley said he had received a written statement from the five men dated Nov. 4 saying they planned to stop filing legal motions and “to announce our confessions to plea in full.”
Speaking in what has become a familiar high-pitched tone in the cavernous courtroom here, the most prominent of the five, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, said, “we don’t want to waste our time with motions.”
“All of you are paid by the U.S. government,” continued Mr. Mohammed, who has described himself as the mastermind of the 2001 attacks. “I’m not trusting any American.”
Mr. Mohammed and the others presented their decision almost as a dare to the American government. When Judge Henley raised questions about the procedure for imposing the death penalty after a guilty plea, some of the detainees immediately suggested they might change their minds if they could not be assured they would be executed.
The announcement Monday sent shockwaves through the biggest case in the war crimes system here — the case for which some government officials say the system was expressly devised. With the case suddenly at a critical juncture, President-elect Barack Obama may find it more complicated to carry out his pledge to close the detention camp here.
Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for the presidential transition office, declined to comment.
Military prosecutors have sought the death penalty against all five men since filing charges last February in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
Mr. Mohammed has emerged as the outspoken leader of the detainees in the courtroom and, presumably, behind closed doors. In September, Mr. Mohammed requested permission for the men — three of whom are defending themselves — to meet without lawyers to plan their defense. A military judge granted the request with the approval of the prosecution, and the men met several times for a total of 27 hours and prepared a written statement.
On Monday, Judge Henley methodically questioned each man to determine if he agreed with the joint statement.
One of the five detainees, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, told the judge, “We the brothers, all of us, would like to submit our confession.” Mr. bin al-Shibh is charged with being the primary contact between the operation’s organizers and the Sept. 11 hijackers.
National security specialists said the strategy appeared orchestrated by Mr. Mohammed, who has repeatedly tried to turn to the legal process into an international platform.
“These guys are smart enough to know that they’re not ever going to see the light of day again,” said Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal terrorism prosecutor who is chairman of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism in Washington. “I think they’re trying to make as big a publicity splash as they can.”