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 The military has allowed the gatherings to continue because charges have not been formally withdrawn in the commission process, despite the announcement last month that Mohammed and the others would face trial in Manhattan.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.