A military judge on Friday dismissed two relatively minor charges against the five prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay detention center who are accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Army Col. James Pohl accepted a defense argument that the five-year statute of limitations had run out on two non-capital charges: attacking civilian objects and destruction of property. The men still face vastly more serious charges, including committing murder in violation of the law of war and terrorism for the ataacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. They could get the death penalty if convicted.
About the Sept. 11 trial
The defendants include Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. All five face the same charges for their alleged roles planning and providing logistical support to the hijackers who carried out the plot.
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Mohammed and the others were initially charged in February 2008. Charges were later refiled in May 2011 after reforms adopted by Congress and President Barack Obama to the military commission, which combines elements of the civilian and military justice systems to prosecute men held at the U.S. base in Cuba for war crimes. The case has been bogged down in the pretrial stage largely because of issues related to the harsh treatment the men were subjected to while held in clandestine CIA detention facilities.
Prosecutors had argued that the statute of limitations does not apply to war crimes, but Judge Pohl disagreed in a 22-page ruling. It was unclear if the prosecution would appeal.
Alka Pradhan, an attorney for defendant Ammar al Baluchi, described the ruling as a rare victory for the defense. They will seek to dismiss three of the capital charges, including terrorism and conspiracy, at a pretrial hearing in May at the base.
Prosecutors asked a judge last month to provisionally schedule the trial for June 2018 but a date has not yet been set.