MONDAY 8 DECEMBER 2008 Alleged 9/11 Plotters Offer to Confess at Guantánamo by: William Glaberson, The New York Times

What convenient timing . . . but a later session requested by Judge Henley?


Alleged 9/11 Plotters Offer to Confess at Guantánamo

by: William Glaberson, The New York Times

Guantánamo Bay, Cuba - All five of the Guantánamo detainees charged with planning and coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks have asked a military judge to accept their confessions in full. The request appeared to be intended to cut short any effort to try them, and to challenge the United States government to put them to death.

At the start of what had been expected to be routine proceedings Monday, the military judge, Col. Steven Henley, disclosed that he had received a written statement from the five men. The statement said the five planned to stop filing written motions and instead "to announce our confessions to plea in full."

As he questioned one of the men, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has described himself as the mastermind of the 2001 attacks, Judge Henley of the United States Army asked whether Mr. Mohammmed was prepared to enter pleas to the charges against him today. "Yes," Mr. Mohammed answered brusquely.

"We don't want to waste our time with motions," Mr. Mohammed said. "All of you are paid by the U.S. government. I'm not trusting any American."

Military prosecutors have sought the death penalty against all five men.

Judge Henley began methodically questioning each of the five men to determine if they agreed with the joint statement, which was written after lengthy meetings among them that military officials had permitted them to hold in recent weeks.

"We the brothers, all of us, would like to submit our confession," Ramzi bin al Shibh, another oft the detainees, said in response to questions from the judge. Mr. bin al Shibh is charged with being the primary contact with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The judge said that even if he agreed on Monday to accept the pleas, he would hold a later session to examine the full facts behind the detainees' decisions to plead guilty.

The unusual events were not a complete surprise. There had been indications for months that the detainees were resisting working with the military lawyers assigned to represent them. In addition, a move to cut short the proceedings had been seen by some lawyers working in the system here as a way Mr. Mohammed and the other men could draw maximum public attention to their cases and, potentially, to make statements about their political views without the government having the opportunity to detail their acts, including the specifics of the plot that caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, in court.

The American political calendar may also be a factor. Many people inside and outside the government expect President-elect Obama to close down the military commissions that have been used by the Bush administration, and to direct that many detainees now held in Guantánamo Bay be prosecuted instead in the civilian American legal system.

If that indeed happens in the first days of the Obama administration, then Monday's proceedings will have been the detainees' last opportunity to challenge the widely criticized system here with guilty pleas that could yield them the opportunity for what they see as martyrdom.