Prosecutors are discussing deals with five men held in connection with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a new report.
CBS News reported Sunday — the 21st anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington — that U.S. military prosecutors and attorneys are working on a deal that would avert any of the suspects facing the death penalty.
The cases against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was named as the “principal architect” of the attacks in the 9/11 commission’s report, and four others — Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Walid bin Attash and Ammar al-Baluchi — have been stalled over issues with evidence gathered by the CIA and then again by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A representative for the military proceedings told CBS News merely that “the parties are currently engaged in preliminary plea negotiations.”
“The families are outraged,” Debra Burlingame said of the possibility of plea deals. Her brother, pilot Charles Burlingame, was killed when his plane was commandeered by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon.
“We didn’t have remains for weeks,” she told CBS News. “We were constantly saying to each other, ‘What would Chic want? What would Chic do?'”
Burlingame said there cannot be justice as long as the 9/11 defendants are alive to be freed down the road.
“I will not have closure as long as there is any possibility for some future president to commute their sentences or trade them away for something political that they want from some other country,” she said. “That’s a very real possibility because it’s now been done over and over and over again.”
Burlingame said she fears the nation has “reached a point in our country where we just don’t seem to have … the courage of our convictions.”
When asked if forgiveness was possible, she replied, “Yes, but not for them. … You have to truly take responsibility for what you’ve done. And they will never do that.”
Others hold different opinions about the prospect of plea deals.
The group 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows said taking the death penalty off the table is fine as long as there are no appeals and the defendants cooperate by sharing information with federal officials. The group said the CIA’s alleged torture of the defendants was a factor in its decision.
“All five defendants and the government are all engaged in good faith negotiations, with the idea of bringing this trial which has become a forever trial to an end,” said James Connell, a defense attorney for al-Baluchi.
“Mr. al-Baluchi’s number one priority is obtaining medical care for his torture,” Connell said. “In order to get that medical care, he is willing to plead guilty to a substantial sentence at Guantanamo in exchange for a guarantee of medical care and dropping the death penalty.”
The CIA held the defendants prior to their being housed at Guantanamo Bay and used interrogation techniques that some have been branded as torture.
“The one that has had perhaps the most lasting physical impact was what they called ‘walling,'” said Alka Pradhan, a human rights attorney on the al-Baluchi legal team.
“He had told us that his head was bashed against a wall repeatedly until he saw sparks and fainted,” Pradhan said. “The result of that is, as we’ve had several medical experts examine him, is lasting brain damage.”
For some, the truth is what matters.
“It’s important to me that America finally gets to the truth about what happened, how it was done,” George Haberman, whose 25-year-old daughter Andrea died in the World Trade Center, said, according to The Associated Press.
“I personally want to see this go to trial,” he said.
On Sunday, Americans were urged above all to not forget the day and the 2,977 people who were killed.
“It’s been 21 years, but it’s not 21 years for us. It seems like just yesterday,” Bonita Mentis, who lost her sister, Shevonne Mentis, at the World Trade Center, said, according to NPR. Bonita Mentis was at the ceremony to help read the names of the fallen.
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