WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Moving towards a final reckoning as the nation approaches the 20th anniversary of the day that led to the longest war in US history, a military judge on Friday (Aug 30) set a date for the death penalty trial at Guantánamo Bay of the five men accused of plotting the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.
The judge, Colonel W. Shane Cohen of the Air Force, set Jan 11, 2021, for the start of the selection of a military jury at Camp Justice, the war court compound at the Navy base in Cuba. It is the first time a judge in the case actually set a start-of-trial date.
The case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men, should it proceed, would be the definitive trial tied to the Sept 11 attacks.
Mohammed and the four others face the death penalty in a conspiracy case that describes Mohammed as the architect of the plot in which 19 men hijacked four commercial passenger planes and slammed two of them into the World Trade Center towers and one into the Pentagon.
The fourth crashed into a Pennsylvania field. The other four men are described as helping the hijackers with training, travel or finances.
"We've been wanting a date for a very long time," said Terry Strada, whose husband, Tom, was killed in the World Trade Center. "This is good news."
It is still unclear if the trial will actually occur. A judge has yet to rule on whether FBI agents' descriptions of the defendants' confessions are admissible because the defendants were tortured in CIA prisons. Defence lawyers have said they will go to federal court closer to the trial start date to try to stop the proceedings.
Besides Mohammed, two of the other men charged are Waleed Mohammed Bin Attash and Ramzi Binalshibh. The final two men charged are Ammar al-Baluchi, Mohammed's nephew, and Mustafa al Hawsawi.
All five were arraigned in May 2012. Since then, judges have held more than 30 pretrial hearing sessions to work out questions of law and evidence that would apply at the trial.
Selection of the jury - 12 members and four alternate members - is expected to last months, with American military officers shuttled by air to and from the base in groups because of the limited housing at Guantánamo.
Should the men be convicted and sentenced to death, it is up to the secretary of defence to determine the method of execution.