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Plea negotiations could mean no 9/11 defendants face the death penalty

The Pentagon and FBI notified families of 9/11 victims of this in a letter this week.
Posted at 9:22 AM, Aug 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-17 09:22:00-04

The suspected architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and his fellow defendants may never face the death penalty under plea agreements now under consideration to bring an end to their more than decadelong prosecution, the Pentagon and FBI have advised families of some of the thousands killed.

The notice, made in a letter that was sent to several of the families and obtained by The Associated Press, comes 1 1/2 years after military prosecutors and defense lawyers began exploring a negotiated resolution to the case.

The prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been troubled by repeated delays and legal disputes, especially over the legal ramifications of the interrogation under torture that the men initially underwent while in CIA custody. No trial date has been set.

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“The Office of the Chief Prosecutor has been negotiating and is considering entering into pre-trial agreements,” or PTAs, the letter said. It told the families that while no plea agreement “has been finalized, and may never be finalized, it is possible that a PTA in this case would remove the possibility of the death penalty."

Some relatives of the nearly 3,000 people killed outright in the terror attacks expressed outrage over the prospect of ending the case short of a verdict. The military prosecutors pledged to take their views into consideration and present them to the military authorities who would make the final decision on accepting any plea agreement.

The letter, dated Aug. 1, was received by at least some of the family members only this week. It asks them to respond by Monday to the FBI's victim services division with any comments or questions about the possibility of such a plea agreement. The FBI had no comment Wednesday on the letter.

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On Sept. 11, 2001, conspirators from the al-Qaida militant group seized control of jets to use them as passenger-filled missiles, hitting New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon near Washington. A fourth plane was headed for Washington but crashed in Pennsylvania after crew members and passengers tried to storm the cockpit.

It was Mohammed who presented the very idea of such an attack on the United States to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and who received authorization from bin Laden to craft what became the 9/11 attacks, the United States' 9/11 Commission concluded. The four other defendants are alleged to have supported the hijackers in various ways.

The attacks led to the U.S. “war on terror,” which included U.S. invasions and prolonged wars in Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was based, and in Iraq, which had no connection with the attacks.