As America prepares to meditate, twenty years after the September 11 attacks, the trial of the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four defendants resumes on Tuesday, but its outcome still seems far away.
The five men, imprisoned for fifteen years in the prison of the American naval base of Guantanamo, in the south-east of Cuba, had not appeared since the beginning of the year 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic put on the proceedings at a standstill.
A new magistrate
Their trial, which falls under exceptional military justice, should resume as it left off, with a defense invoking acts of torture, when the accused were in the hands of the CIA, to invalidate most of the evidence put forward. by the American authorities. The procedure is led by a new military magistrate, Colonel Matthew McCall, who is the eighth to seize it. The officer made it clear he would not rush, deciding that Tuesday’s hearing would be devoted to his own qualifications. He intends to spend the rest of the week mainly in meetings with the prosecution and the defense.
And it could still be months, or even more than a year, before the trial enters its truly decisive phase, in view of the very numerous appeals filed by the defense lawyers to obtain documents. One of the defense lawyers, James Connell, even assured that he did not “know” if this trial would one day go to an end. The defense argues that the five defendants – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ammar al-Baluchi, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi – still bear the aftermath of the torture inflicted by the CIA, while in prison. secrets of the intelligence agency between 2002 and 2006.
Little doubt about the conviction
Without counting, according to their lawyers, the effect of fifteen years of imprisonment in conditions of great isolation. The five men, accused of “murder” and “terrorist acts”, will appear in a high security courtroom, surrounded by fences with barbed wire. They risk the death penalty. In front of them, the families of the 2,976 people whose deaths are blamed on them, and journalists.
The resumption of the trial takes on a very particular repercussion, shortly before the commemorations of the attacks which, twenty years ago, hit the United States. For the prosecution, even if the CIA interrogations were to be struck down, a conviction of the five men is no doubt. Prosecutors ensure that the defendants provided solid evidence during interrogations this time by the FBI, the federal police, in 2007 after their arrival at Guantanamo.
Not credible, argues the defense, for whom the FBI participated in the acts of torture of the CIA and also used intimidation techniques, which makes his interrogations just as dubious. “Do not have any illusions, these men were taken to Guantanamo to cover up acts of torture”, rather than being presented to ordinary American justice, said James Connell, who defends Ammar al-Baluchi. The defense is demanding mountains of confidential documents that the government has so far refused to deliver, whether it concerns the torture program, the conditions of detention at Guantanamo or the health of the accused.
She also wants to hear dozens of additional witnesses, in addition to the 12 who have already marched before the military court, including two men who oversaw the CIA’s interrogation program. Alka Pradhan, another defense lawyer, blames the long delays on the US government, recalling that it took six years to admit that the FBI participated in the CIA torture program. “This business is wearing you out,” she said. “They retain documents that it would be normal to share in an ordinary procedure”.