Lawyers for the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and federal prosecutors are in talks to negotiate a potential plea agreement for the Pakistani terrorist and four other co-defendants that could drop the possibility of death penalty for them, according to a media report.
The report in The New York Times cited people with knowledge of the discussions as saying that “prosecutors have opened talks with lawyers” for 58-year-old Mohammed and his four co-defendants to “negotiate a potential plea agreement that would drop the possibility of execution.” The report added that a guilty plea in exchange for life sentences and not execution could bring to an end the case going on for years now at Guantanamo Bay.
“Nearly a decade after the men were arraigned, the military judge has set no trial start date,” it said.
The report said while no deal is expected soon, guilty pleas resulting in life sentences could force the Joe Biden administration to “modify its ambition of ending detention operations at Guantánamo Bay and instead rebrand it as a military prison for a few men.” During the Trump administration, there had been a failed attempt at such talks when the accused plotters had demanded that they serve their sentences at Guantanamo, where they are able to pray and eat in groups.
They did not want to be sent to the supermax prison in Colorado where federal inmates are held in solitary confinement up to 23 hours a day, the report said.
“A plea deal would undoubtedly disappoint, if not enrage, death-penalty advocates among the victims’ family members. But other family members, including those troubled by the role of U.S. torture in the case and the delays, might see it as a fitting conclusion,” it said.
Following a nearly two-year closure of the court due to the coronavirus pandemic, discussions began last week, the report said.
The NYT report said as part of any plea agreement, the defendants would have to work with prosecutors, through their lawyers, on “individual lengthy narratives known as a stipulation of fact” which will be prosecution-approved admission of their crimes.
The report said the judge, defense and prosecution teams had travelled to Guantanamo Bay for three weeks of hearings meant to address disputes over evidence, “particularly showing the role of the F.B.I. in the C.I.A. prison network” where Mohammed and his co-defendants were “tortured after they were captured in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003.” A lead prosecutor in the case Clayton Trivett wrote to the defense teams that they discuss “whether pretrial agreements are possible for all five cases.” “While I cannot guarantee that we will come to terms over these next two weeks,” Trivett said in an email, “putting a concerted effort focused solely on possible agreements while we are all onboard Guantánamo, where your clients and teams are present, may be our best chance of at least determining if deals can be reached.” The report said within days, the five defendants and their lawyers met in the courtroom to compile an initial list of requirements for the guilty plea, “starting with removing the death penalty from the case.” While prosecutors have begun the negotiations, senior Pentagon official known as the convening authority Col. Jeffrey D Wood of the Arkansas National Guard, must approve any deal.
The report further reported that a core issue in the matter is how many of the defendants beside Mohammed would serve life sentences without possibility of parole, and whether some of the accused accomplices with lesser roles in the attacks would serve shorter sentences.
Lawyers for two defendants Saudi prisoner Mustafa al-Hawsawi and Pakistani national and Mohammed’s nephew Ammar al-Baluchi have described them as being ignorant of the 9/11 plot when they helped some of the hijackers with money transfers and travel arrangements from the United Arab Emirates.
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