Sept. 11 suspects meet to lay out trial strategy

WASHINGTON — Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are meeting to plot legal strategy in advance of their transfer to New York and are learning as much as possible about criminal procedure in U.S. federal court, according to sources familiar with the detainees' deliberations.

Facing trial with Mohammed are: Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni; Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni better known as Khallad; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mohammed's nephew and a Pakistani also known as Ammar al-Baluchi; and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a Saudi.

While the five men wanted to plead guilty in a military commission earlier this year to hasten their executions, sources now say that the detainees favor participating in a full-scale federal trial to air their grievances and expose their treatment while held by the CIA at secret prisons. The sources, who cautioned that the detainees' final decision remains uncertain, spoke on the condition of anonymity because all communications with high-value detainees are presumptively classified.

The detainees' meetings were set up to allow them to prepare for a trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The military has allowed the gatherings to continue because charges have not been formally withdrawn in the commission process, despite the announcement last month that Mohammed and the others would face trial in Manhattan.

The five have held two all-day meetings at Guantanamo Bay since Attorney General Eric Holder said they would face federal criminal prosecution, said Joseph DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions.

DellaVedova said they break only for meals and prayers. The military has also provided the men with computers in their cells at Guantanamo Bay to work on their defense.

It was unclear when the men will be transferred to New York. The Obama administration has yet to file a 45-day classified notice with Congress that it intends to move the prisoners into the United States, said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman.

That suggests that their trial isn't expected to begin until late 2011.

Detention center may stay till 2011

President Barack Obama's commitment to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by next month may be delayed until 2011 because it will take months for the government to buy an Illinois prison and upgrade it to hold suspected terrorists. The delay could be extended by congressional opposition to funding the purchase and upgrades for the Thomson Correctional Center, an underused state facility about 150 miles west of Chicago. Obama originally said Guantanamo would close Jan. 22, 2010, but the prison may not be purchased from the state until March and will need up to 10 months of construction, said Joe Shoemaker, spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Associated Press

Sept. 11 suspects meet to lay out trial strategy 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 11:12pm]

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