MANHATTAN (CN) – Closing the door for now to providing families information to hold Saudi Arabia liable for the 9/11 attacks, the plot’s accused “mastermind” Khalid Shaikh Mohammad told their attorneys that he may be available for a deposition if his life is not on the line.
“Today, counsel for Khalid Shaikh Mohammad informed the [9/11 families] that Mr. Mohammad will not consent to a deposition ‘at the present time,’” their attorneys wrote in a 2-page letter Friday. “Counsel stated that ‘the primary driver’ of this decision is the ‘capital nature of the prosecution’ and that ‘[i]n the absence of a potential death sentence much broader cooperation would be possible.’”
The new letter has remarkable timing: Pretrial proceedings in the military commissions against the five accused 9/11 plotters have been ongoing in Guantánamo Bay, where the presiding judge, Air Force Col. Shane Cohen, signaled Friday that he might bar prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty, the New York Times’ Carol Rosenberg reported from the war court.
The revelations also fall a day after Attorney General William Barr renewed national debate over capital punishment with a plan to fast-track federal executions after a roughly 16-year hiatus.
Mohammad and his four alleged co-conspirators have faced their current charges in the military commissions system since 2011, during the first term of the Obama presidency after Congress blocked an attempt to try the five in a civilian court.
Their prosecution has stagnated under the ad-hoc war court system devised by the second Bush administration and reformed, but not done away with, by Obama.
The 9/11 families also say they reached out to two unidentified inmates in a federal prison in Florence, Colorado, where several terrorists convicted in civilian trials have been held in Supermax confinement.
“Counsel for the Supermax inmates has indicated he will speak to his clients about plaintiffs’ deposition requests very soon, but has not yet had the chance to discuss these matters directly with them,” their attorney James Kreindler wrote.
A longtime irritant on the U.S.-Saudi relationship, the 9/11 liability suit turned a corner after the families persuaded Congress to enact the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act which narrowed the kingdom’s sovereign immunity.