The US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] referred charges [press release] to a military commission on Wednesday against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and four other alleged 9/11 conspirators being held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounders]. Mohammed, along with Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin 'Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, have been charged pursuant to the Military Commissions Act of 2009 [text, PDF], and are accused of conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking aircraft and terrorism. The men could face the death penalty if convicted. Accordingly, the terror suspects have been provided with counsel specializing in death penalty cases in addition to their defense counsel. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] Executive Director Anthony Romero criticized the US government [press release] for referring the case to a military tribunal and stressed the importance of due process:
The Obama Administration is making a terrible mistake by prosecuting the most important terrorism trials of our time in a second-tier system of justice. Whatever verdict comes out of the Guantanamo military commissions will be tainted by an unfair process and the politics that wrongly pulled these cases from federal courts, which have safely and successfully handled hundreds of terrorism trials.A military judge will be assigned by the Military Commissions Trial Judiciary to preside over the case and the men will be arraigned at Guantanamo Bay.
The DOD announced in May that it had sworn charges against the five men [JURIST report] for the 9/11 attacks. Last April, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that Mohammed and four others would be tried by a military commission [JURIST report] after the Obama administration abandoned attempts to have the 9/11 suspects tried in civilian courts. Holder had wanted the accused be tried before a federal civilian court [JURIST report] but referred the cases to the DOD after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST report] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US. In March 2010, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] called on the Obama administration to hold civilian trials [JURIST report] for Mohammed and other suspected terrorists saying that the military commissions system is fatally flawed and cannot be reformed. Earlier that month, the ACLU released a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging President Barack Obama [JURIST report] to uphold his pledge to try 9/11 suspects in civilian criminal court.