US to seek death penalty against 9/11 planner

US military prosecutors will file charges on Monday against the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and five other Guantanamo prisoners and will seek to execute them if they are convicted, officials involved in the process said.
The charges against former al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five other captives will be announced in an 11 am. EST (1600 GMT) news conference at the Pentagon. They will be the first charges from the Guantanamo war court alleging direct involvement in the attacks and the first involving the death penalty.
Prosecutors will send the charges to a Pentagon appointee overseeing the Guantanamo trials, Susan Crawford, whose approval is needed before any trials can proceed.
“I was responsible for the 911 Operation, from A to Z,” the US military quoted Mohammed as saying in an administrative hearing at Guantanamo, according to the transcript released by the Pentagon in March 2007.
“I was the operational director for Sheikh Usama (Osama) Bin Laden for the organizing, planning, follow-up, and execution of the 911 operation.”
Mohammed also said he was responsible for a 1993 attack on New York’s World Trade Center, the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, and an attempt to down two American airplanes using shoe bombs. He also confessed to the beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
But his confession could be problematic if used as evidence because the CIA has admitted it subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as “waterboarding” during interrogations.
The procedure is widely considered to be torture and the Guantanamo court rules prohibit the use of evidence obtained through torture, as does an international treaty the United States has signed.
The US military began sending captives to Guantanamo in January 2002 and hopes to eventually try 80 of the 275 who remain.
The widely criticized Guantanamo tribunals are the first US war crimes tribunals since World War Two. They were established after the Sept. 11 attacks to try non-US captives whom the Bush administration considers “enemy combatants” undeserving of legal protections granted to soldiers and civilians.
They currently operate under authority of a law Congress passed in 2006, after the US Supreme Court struck down the first version.

Copyright Reuters, 2008