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Accused 9/11 Plotters Begin Trials as Legal Issues Linger

Five accused Sept. 11 plotters, including the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, appeared in a Guantanamo military court for the first time Thursday. A reporter looks at the proceedings and the legal issues they raise.

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    Nearly seven years after the September 11th attacks, the al-Qaida operative who confessed to planning that strike was charged today with 2,973 counts of murder, one for every victim on 9/11.

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed faces a possible death sentence, if convicted in a military tribunal at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Also arraigned today on similar charged were: Waleed Bin Attash; Ramzi bin al-Shibh; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali; and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi.

    But hanging over these proceedings are continuing controversies over the alleged abusive treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere and the legality of the military commissions system itself.

    The original tribunals, initially a presidential creation, were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Congress then passed the Military Commission Act in 2006, reconstituting the tribunal system, but that law is also now under Supreme Court review.

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and, like his co-defendants, was held by the CIA in secret prisons at undisclosed locations overseas.

    The CIA has acknowledged interrogating Mohammed with the controlled drowning technique known as waterboarding.

    Mohammed and his co-defendants were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006. Since then, their case and others have provoked several legal twists and much confusion.

    Yesterday, Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the chief legal adviser to the tribunals, said the system's clear goal is impartial justice.

  • BRIG. GEN. THOMAS HARTMANN, Legal Adviser, U.S. Military Tribunal System:

    Our focus is on making sure, making absolutely sure within the power that we've got under the Military Commission Act, that was passed in conjunction with the president and the Congress, and the Department of Defense, to make sure that these trials are fair, just and transparent.

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