Guantanamo Naval Station 8 november 2023. EFE/ Marta Garde

Evidence against 9/11 defendants puts validity of confessions in the spotlight

Marta Garde

Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, Nov. 8 (EFE) – A question about confessions hovers over the pretrial hearings against those accused of the 9/11 attacks: Are confessions obtained under suspicion of torture admissible? The answer, say the detainees’ lawyers, could turn the case around.

The question does not affect statements obtained through the euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA in its secret prisons after the prisoners were captured in 2002 and 2003. These have already been invalidated.

On Wednesday, the military commission overseeing the fate of self-proclaimed 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohamed (KSM) and three alleged accomplices will focus on what they told the FBI while already in custody at the Guantanamo naval base, where they arrived in 2006.

Then the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush (2001-2009) sent agents to question them, who had “clean hands,” as James Connell, the representative of one of the detainees, Ammar al-Baluchi, told the press.

Connell’s team and other defendants are trying to prove that this clean-up was a pretense.

“Our position is that the CIA and the FBI coordinated in such a way that when the FBI talked to them in 2007, they took advantage of the damage that had been done to these men,” he contends.

Not only was it exploited, but the FBI would have been remotely involved in the interrogations for years, and that some of the agents on the new team had ties to the CIA that compromised the new statements as well.

“For some defendants, these statements are a very, very important part of the case. If the government cannot rely on them, depending on the person, they do not have nearly as much evidence. So this is a key issue,” said Connell from the Guantanamo base.

Seashells and searocks with scribblings referring to 9/11 at the Guantanamo, one of them reads “In memory of all those who died of post 9/11 illness” Naval Station on November 8, 2023. EFE/Marta Garde

In the complex of barracks and prefabricated buildings of the naval base that the United States has in Cuban territory, the aforementioned hearing begins Wednesday, after two days of delay because a lawyer tested positive for Covid.

Prior hearings

There have been 47 prior hearings, each lasting several weeks, since the defendants were formally charged with terrorism in 2012 for the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that killed nearly 3,000 people.

On this occasion, former FBI agents such as Abigail Perkins and interpreters from that intelligence agency are summoned, with the expected presence of KSM, Al-Baluchi and the other two defendants in the room: Walid bin Attash and Mustafa al Hawsawi.

In September, a fifth detainee, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, was removed from the case because the post-traumatic disorder he suffers as a result of years of torture, which renders him incapable of facing a possible trial.

“The process is very slow, but we are in a very important part of the case, which is what evidence will be admissible. These men were tortured, there is not much dispute about that. The question is whether the statements obtained later are admissible,” Connell told EFE.

According to David Bruck, representative of the separated prisoner, the question is whether the confessions were free or the result of all that he had gone through.

Camp Justice at Guantanamo Naval Station on November 8,2023. EFE/ Marta Garde

The CIA’s interrogation program sought to reduce these men to “confession machines,” Bruck told EFE.

“Common sense tells you that the torture and psychological manipulation to which they were subjected played a role in them deciding that it was better to talk to the FBI,” he added.

Trial without a date

Issues such as these, which have been raised in previous hearings, have contributed to the fact that the alleged 9/11 “mastermind” and the other defendants continue to be held without a scheduled trial.

There are also other complications, such as the size of the case and the fact that it is being held at Guantanamo.

There is no immediate date for the trial, and if it were to take place, it would last at least 18 months, estimates Brigadier General Jackie Thompson, coordinator of the defense teams at the base.

A negotiated plea bargain, in his opinion, is “the best way” to get out of the current “impasse”: “It offers an opportunity to fully satisfy the interests of the government, the victims and their families” and the defendants, whose death sentence would be commuted to life in prison. EFE

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