The Pentagon has formally approved death penalty charges against reputed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other men in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, setting the stage for proceedings to begin before a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, sometime in June.
The Pentagon made no announcement that a civilian appointee known as the convening authority, Susan Crawford, had signed off on the charges. But defense attorneys for the men in Washington, D.C., said they received copies of the 93-page charge sheet by fax after the close of business Monday.
Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, who's been appointed to defend Mohammaed, called the after-hours faxed delivery of the charges "arrogant."
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, declined to release the charges publicly, or discuss them. ''When we have something to announce, we will,'' he said in an e-mail Monday evening.
The Pentagon had originally sought charges against six defendants, but Crawford deleted from the charge sheet a Saudi captive at Guantánamo, Mohammed al Qahtani, who is often referred to as the 20th hijacker.
The five accused of conspiring to kill 2,973 people by financing, directing and organizing the 9/11 suicide attacks are Mohammed; Mohammed's nephew, Ammar al Baluchi, Ramzi bin al Shibh, a Yemeni who allegedly organized the Sept. 11 suicide squads, and two alleged co-conspirators Walid Bin Attash and Mustafa al Hawsawi.
No full-blown trial is expected before the end of the Bush administration. Legal experts expect protracted pre-trial challenges in part because the government may rely on classified evidence. The CIA has confirmed that during secret interrogation Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding — a simulated drowning technique widely considered torture.
Moreover, Baluchi's attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, said Monday night he was filing a motion to dismiss the charges on grounds of ``unlawful command influence.''
Last week, a Navy judge disqualified the legal adviser for military commissions, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, from oversight of the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver in a similar motion that argued the general has not been neutral in the process. Mizer is attorney for both the driver, Salim Hamdan of Yemen, in a non-death-penalty case and Baluchi, a Pakistani.
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