Military prosecutors will seek the death penalty for six Guantánamo detainees who are to be charged with central roles in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, reports the New York Times. The case is likely to include numerous war-crimes charges against the six men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former Qaeda operations chief who has described himself as the mastermind of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people. A Defense Department official said prosecutors were seeking the death penalty because “if any case warrants it, it would be for individuals who were parties to a crime of that scale.”
The decision to seek the death penalty will increase the international focus on the case and present new challenges to the troubled military commission system that has yet to begin a single trial. “The system hasn’t been able to handle the less-complicated cases it has been presented with to date,” said David Glazier, a former Navy officer and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. In addition to Mohammed, the other five to be charged include detainees officials say were coordinators and intermediaries in the plot, among them a man labeled the “20th hijacker,” who was denied entry to the U.S. in the month before the attacks. Even if detainees are convicted on capital charges, executions would be many months or, perhaps years, from being carried out in part because a death sentence would have to be reviewed by civilian appeals courts. The last military execution was in 1961, when an Army private was hanged after a rape and attempted murder conviction. Six service members are appealing military death sentences.