Guantánamo

Judge won’t order Guantánamo burial of alleged 9/11 mastermind

The sign showing the portion segregated for Muslims was cracked and faded on Friday, July 24, 2015 at the cemetery at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photo approved for release by the base spokeswoman.
The sign showing the portion segregated for Muslims was cracked and faded on Friday, July 24, 2015 at the cemetery at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photo approved for release by the base spokeswoman.

The military judge in the Sept. 11 trial has ruled against compelling a Muslim rite burial of the alleged 9/11 mastermind at Guantánamo Bay.

Lawyers for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who bragged at Guantánamo in 2007 that he plotted the 9/11 terror attack “from A to Z,” say they asked Mohammed’s judge to order the military to give him a Muslim burial within 24 hours of his death.

The 51-year-old captive is not thought to be sick, and has yet to be tried at the war court, convicted or sentenced. The prosecutor, in fact, is proposing that jury selection start in March 2018, a date that some defense lawyers argue is too soon.

Army Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, ruled Jan. 12 that the funeral rites request was “unripe,” and questioned whether the war court has the authority “to determine the place or manner of Mr. Mohammed’s burial.”

Nearly 3,000 people died in the terror attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field, and the Pentagon prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators in the case. Although not charged with the crime, Mohammed also reportedly boasted after his arrival at this remote base that, in Pakistan, he beheaded Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl “with my blessed right hand.”

Pohl said in his ruling that, just after Christmas, Mohammed asked the court for an order forbidding the U.S. government from either desecrating or mutilating his body, an apparent reference to an autopsy, and to “provide him an immediate burial near his place of birth in accordance with his Islamic faith.”

The Pentagon has yet to release the request and the 9/11 trial prosecutors’ opposition to it.

The decision misstated the request, said Mohammed’s military attorney, U.S. Marine Maj. Derek Poteet. “If he dies at Guantánamo Bay,” Poteet said Tuesday, “Mr. Mohammed would prefer to be buried at Guantánamo Bay. He wants to be immediately buried near his place of death.”

The chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, disclosed Monday that he has proposed selection of the jury of U.S. military officers for the death-penalty case start in March 2018. Prosecutors would take between “six and eight weeks” to put on their case, the general said.

Attorney Jim Harrington, defending Yemeni Ramzi bin al Shibh, an alleged Sept. 11 plot deputy, called a March 2018 start date “not conceivable.” Rather, he said, “I think 2020 is a more realistic year to start.”

“We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface yet on receiving classified information,” Harrington added. Once the prosecution and judge turn over the evidence they believe the defense attorneys should get, defense teams would then turn in earnest to translation, investigation and requests for additional evidence, he said.

No decision has been made on how a war criminal would be executed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Nor has there been a decision on what would become of an executed captive’s remains. The remains of nine prisoners who died at the detention center were repatriated to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen after U.S. military autopsies.

In 2011, however, the Obama administration said the U.S. gave Osama bin Laden a burial in the North Arabian Sea within 24 hours of U.S. forces killing him in a raid in Pakistan. The burial was in keeping with Muslim practice, U.S. officials said at the time, and denied followers of the al-Qaida founder a grave to serve as a monument or martyr’s rallying point.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Additional reading

▪ The judge’s burial ruling.

▪ Miami Herald guide to Sept. 11 mass murder trial.

▪ The chief prosecutor’s Jan. 23, 2017 statement.

▪ About the base’s cemetery, a 2006 article.

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