Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008
Five of the men accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said Monday that they wanted to plead guilty to murder and war crimes but withdrew the offer when a military judge raised questions about whether it would prevent them from fulfilling their desire to receive the death penalty.
“Are you saying if we plead guilty we will not be able to be sentenced to death?” Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed operational mastermind of the attacks, asked at a pretrial hearing here.
The seesaw proceedings Monday raised and then postponed the prospect of a conviction in a case that has become the centerpiece of the system of military justice created by the Bush administration. A conviction would have capped a seven-year quest for justice after the 2001 attacks, but the delay in entering pleas will probably extend the process beyond the end of the Bush presidency.
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The willingness of the defendants to “announce our confessions and plea in full,” according to a document they sent to the judge in the case, Army Col. Stephen Henley, potentially bestows some hard decisions on the incoming administration. President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but he has not indicated whether he will retain the military commissions that may be close to securing the death penalty for suspects in the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
If the judge ultimately accepts guilty pleas, the ability of the Obama administration to transfer the case to federal court — a desire expressed by some Obama advisers — might be constrained, said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. That could mean the new administration may have to oversee an execution resulting from a process that many Obama supporters and legal advisers regard as deeply flawed.
This article was posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 5:01 am