The five men the Justice Department has said will be charged in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, intend to plead not guilty so they can express their political and religious views during a trial, the lawyer for one of the men said on Saturday.
Scott Fenstermaker said that during a meeting at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison on Tuesday, his client, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, expressed the desire for a trial despite his intention to admit his role in the attacks and seek "martyrdom" through execution.
"He acknowledges that he helped plan the 9/11 attacks, and he says he's looking forward to dying," Fenstermaker said of Ali. But he said he expected Ali and his co-defendants to plead not guilty "so they can have a trial and try to get their message out."
Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, is a nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief organizer of the 2001 plot. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Nov. 13 that Mohammed, Ali and three other alleged Sept. 11 plotters would be tried in federal criminal court. Fenstermaker said Ali told him all five men would seek a trial.
The report of Ali's comments may add to complaints from critics of Holder's decision who favored military trials in Cuba and have said a criminal trial will provide terrorists with a propaganda platform. Defenders of the move say military commissions, too, would have given the defendants a public showcase for their views.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Fenstermaker, who represents Ali in a civil case challenging his detention and visited him for three days last week, gave the New York Times a translation from Arabic of a two-page letter written by Mohammed, Ali, and a third Sept. 11 defendant, Walid Muhammad Salih bin Attash, to the military court at Guantanamo in September.
The letter said the men had no objection to a 60-day continuance in military commission proceedings. But the three men used it to condemn the U.S. military presence in Muslim countries and its support for Israel.
"We were arrested in 2003 and we spent three years moving around between the black sites in the 'Dark Ages' of Bush, then we were transferred to the island of oppression, torture and terror, Guantanamo, in 2006," the letter said. The phrase 'Dark Ages' was in English in the original, the translator noted.