WASHINGTON — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants are expected be arraigned on capital charges at 9 a.m. today at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rekindling a military commission case that began under the George W. Bush administration in 2008.
The charges against Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will be read, and the suspects will be asked by a military judge, Army Col. James Pohl, whether they understand them. The allegations include conspiracy, attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, murder in violation of the law of war, hijacking and terrorism.
Mohammed in the past expressed an interest in pleading guilty so that he could be swiftly executed, but there have been indications that he and the four others plan to fight the charges this time. The case is likely to last a couple of years, followed by a lengthy appeals process. This would provide Mohammed, who seems to relish the spotlight, a stage from which to issue various pronouncements.
The case has generated a great deal of interest, with more than 50 American and foreign journalists traveling to Cuba, as well as observers from major human rights groups.
The five defendants will probably indicate whether they wish to keep the military and civilian counsel that have been retained for them. In the earlier trial, Mohammed had insisted on representing himself, a wish that a previous judge granted to him and two other defendants, Waleed bin Attash, a Yemeni, and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a Pakistani.
The ability of two other defendants — Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni, and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, a Saudi — to represent themselves was still under review when proceedings in the case were suspended in January 2009.
Almost immediately after coming into office, President Barack Obama halted proceedings at Guantanamo as part of his goal to close the detention center. His administration hoped to move the Sept. 11 case to New York, but that effort collapsed in the face of local and congressional opposition.
In April 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the case would be returned to the military. Prosecutors renewed the charges against Mohammed last month, and a senior Pentagon official referred the case for trial.
Defense attorneys for the five defendants say their preparations for trial have been "crippled" by government interference with attorney-client communications. They also complain that they have been unable to obtain some classified evidence, and do not have enough Arabic translators and investigators.
"The odds continue to be silently and deliberately stacked against a fair process," said Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, who represents one of the five men, al-Hawsawi, in a statement this week. "These men are represented on paper only, not in substance."
Because of the complexity of trying five defendants simultaneously on capital charges, the selection of a jury of military officers and opening arguments could be a year or more away.