The military judge in the 9/11 case postponed hearings this summer on Monday, citing a pending assessment of whether any of the five men accused of conspiring in the attacks are fit to stand trial.
Judge Colonel Matthew N. McCall said in a four-page injunction that it « would be prudent » to delay case testimony and legal arguments until September because a panel of military mental health experts were investigating mental competency. of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who is accused of being a conspiracy deputy.
The panel has until July 14 to report its findings. Mr. bin al-Shibh’s lawyers had argued that the defendant « cannot attend pre-trial motion hearings as long as the issue of his mental capacity to stand trial remains unresolved. »
The first hearings in more than a year had been set for July 3 to 21. Colonel McCall said he would travel to Guantánamo Bay again during the week of July 10 for private meetings with another man accused of the plot, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, and his lawyers. The subject of the talks is not known, but court filings showed turmoil within Mr. Hawsawi’s legal team.
Why it matters: The case has been hanging for more than a year.
Under the current court schedule, the men accused of planning the attacks will not return to the war tribunal until Sept. 18, following the 22nd anniversary of the attacks by 19 men who hijacked four passenger planes on Sept. 11, 2001 and li they crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
If the panel concludes that Mr. bin al-Shibh is unfit to stand trial, one focus of the fall hearings could be whether prosecutors want to call in experts to challenge that finding. Prosecutors have argued in the past that all five men should be tried concurrently to spare the victims’ families from multiple trials.
Context: Prosecutors want White House backing for a plea deal.
Prosecutors began plea deals in March 2022 and for more than a year have sought an answer from the Biden administration as to whether it backed certain assurances sought by the accused mastermind of the attack, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and his four co-defendants. Under the proposal, the men would plead guilty to their role in the attack in exchange for a maximum sentence of life in prison, rather than the possibility of the death penalty.
The defendants asked not to be placed in solitary confinement. They also call for the establishment of a civilian assistance program to deal with the effects of the torture they suffered during the years they were detained by the CIA prior to their transfer to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006.
What’s next: More hearings, possibly on a matter of a defendant’s sanity.
Prosecutors want to echo federal agents’ testimony about their interrogations of the five men at Guantánamo Bay in 2007. Defense attorneys have argued in years of pretrial hearings that those interrogations are tainted by the torture of defendants in the CIA’s overseas prison network , and the FBI’s collaboration with CIA interrogations in prisons, known as black sites.
If the panel believes that Mr. bin al-Shibh is not sane enough to stand trial, the judge could also hold a fact-finding hearing on what steps the military at Guantánamo Bay could take to treat him. Camp 5, where the defendants are being held, has a psychiatric ward on the second floor, known as a behavioral health unit, with a padded cell.