Why the 'mastermind behind 9/11' may not face justice for another 20 years

·Freelance Writer
·4-min read
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is shown in this file photograph during his arrest on March 1, 2003. Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and four other top terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will be sent to New York to be tried in a criminal court,  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on November 13, 2009. REUTERS/Courtesy U.S.News & World Report/Files    (UNITED STATES CRIME LAW CONFLICT POLITICS)
9/11 mastemind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during his arrest in 2003. (Reuters)

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Exactly two decades ago, nearly 3,000 people were killed when terrorists targeted buildings in the US during the 9/11 attacks.

The crisp New York morning on 11 September, 2001, was dramatically altered to a scene of chaos, destruction and tragedy after two airplanes collided into the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

The Pentagon in Washington DC was also hit by a plane, while passengers and crew on United 93 overpowered their hijackers before they could hit an intended target in Washington DC, thought to be either the White House or the Capitol.

United 93 crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, before terrorists could carry out their attack – killing all 44 people on board.

From Brook Lapping

Tuesday 7th September 2021 on ITV 

Pictured: World Trade Center, New York City terrorist attack, September 11, 2001.

Marking the 20th anniversary of September 11, '9/11: Life Under Attack' presents a unique and compelling account of the day that changed the modern world. Featuring never seen before footage, and rare audio, this compelling documentary unveils an intimate portrayal of the events of 9/11 as captured by ordinary people who chose to pick up their cameras and get close to the action that fateful day. Told in the moment, without interview, commentary or narration this riveting documentary weaves together the personal video diaries of a dozen people whose accounts provide a raw and unfiltered telling of 9/11 capturing their confusion, comprehension, terror and relief.  

(C) PCN Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

For further information please contact Peter Gray

This photograph is © PCN Photography / Alamy Stock Photo and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the  programme 9/11: LIFE UNDER ATTACK or ITV. Once made available by the ITV Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the Transmission date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itv.com/presscentre/itvpictures
Smoke billows from the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. (AFP)
An aerial view shows only a small portion of the crime scene where the World Trade Center collapsed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.  Surrounding buildings were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy/Eric J. Tilford)
An aerial view shows where the World Trade Center collapsed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (AFP)

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of what was the deadliest terrorist atrocity in US history – but Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the attacks, has still not faced trial and may not do so for another 20 years.

‘A perfect storm of complication’

Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in March 2003 and has been detained at Guantanamo Bay detention camp since 2006.

In 2008 he was charged with war crimes and murder and his pre-trial was restarted this week – but his defence lawyer believes the trial completion may not happen for two decades.


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David Nevin, who has represented Mohammed since 2008, explained to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You have here a perfect storm of complication coming from many directions but most of it driven by the torture and resulting classification of almost everything related to the torture – which massively complicates management of the case.”

Watch: Why 'mastermind' of Sept 11 attacks 'may not face justice for another 20 years'

Nevin said “the order of magnitude is something on the order of 20 years for complete resolution of the process”, adding: “If there are appeals, they will be long.”

A new judge also has to familiarise himself with some 35,000 pages of transcripts of previous hearings and thousands of motions.

Nevin has described it as the "largest criminal trial in the history of the United States".

‘A cover-up of torture’

While Mohammed’s pre-trial resumed on Tuesday some experts agree with Nevin that it could be many years before any outcome – if a trial takes place at all.

Madeline Morris, a Duke law professor, who heads the Guantanamo Defence Clinic, told NBC News: ”What we've been doing is to have, in essence, no trial at all. It's not necessarily a foregone conclusion that there will be a trial."

This courtroom sketch screened by US Military officials on September 7, 2021 shows accused September 11, 2001 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (aka, KSM) waving to members of the media as he leaves the courtroom after a pretrial hearing at the military commissions court at the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, on September 7, 2021. The trial of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with four co-defendents, Mustafa Ahmed Adam Al Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh and Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, accused in the September 11 attacks restarted on September 7, 2021 just days before the 20th anniversary but quickly ground to a halt on technical issues, underscoring that victims of the Al-Qaeda plot could wait much longer for justice. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT
Courtroom sketch of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed waving to members of the media after a pretrial hearing on Tuesday. (AFP)

James Connell, a lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Ammar al Baluchi, added that “the cover-up of torture” is “the reason that we are all gathered at Guantanamo for the 42nd hearing in the 9/11 military commission on the 15th anniversary of the transfer of these men”.

Defence lawyers also say that it has taken years to access classified evidence against their clients, and that they still don’t have everything they need for the trial, NBC reported.

‘Principal architect’

While Osama Bin Laden is the man most closely associated with 9/11, it was Mohammed who was named as the “principal architect”, according to the 9/11 Commission, which investigated the attacks.

It was Mohammed who came up with the plan to attack the US using planes, and took his idea to al-Qaeda for approval.

(FILES) In this file photo posted on the website www.muslm.net on September 3, 2009 allegedly shows Al-Qaeda's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged organiser of the September 11, 2001 attacks at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.  The prosecution of alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others restarts on September 7, 2021, just days before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, stirring new hopes for justice and retribution. Mohammed and his co-defendants, who have been locked up at the
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed pictured before he was arrested and detained by US authorities. (AFP)

He was linked to a plot to blow up international airliners over the Pacific in the 1990s but an attempt to arrest him in Qatar failed.

After Mohammed’s name was linked to the 9/11 attacks, it took nearly two years for him to be tracked down and arrested in Pakistan, after which he was taken to a CIA “black site” where he was subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques” – including being waterboarded at least 183 times, forced nudity and sleep deprivation.

(FILES) In this file photo the US military’s  Camp X-Ray is viewed at Guantanamo Bay Naval base on March 9, 2016, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The prosecution of alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others restarts on September 7, 2021, just days before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, stirring new hopes for justice and retribution. Mohammed and his co-defendants, who have been locked up at the
The US military’s Camp X-Ray at the Guantanamo Bay Naval base in Cuba. (AFP)

Despite confessing to multiple plots during this period, a Senate report later found that much of the so-called intelligence had simply been made up by Mohammed.

Attempts to hold a trial in New York were abandoned following a public and political backlash, while procedural delays and the COVID pandemic have drawn out the start of a military trial at Guantanamo.

Any conviction is likely to face years of appeals due to the method of torture used to obtain information.

Watch: The West 'could face another 9/11' following Afghanistan withdrawal

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