Editorials

Death penalty complicates Guantanamo

U.S. military, Guantanamo detainees pray before dawn near a fence of razor-wire, inside Camp 4 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. Many detainees have been released, but some await trial in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
U.S. military, Guantanamo detainees pray before dawn near a fence of razor-wire, inside Camp 4 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. Many detainees have been released, but some await trial in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people. The Associated Press

One obvious reason for the excruciatingly slow Guantanamo Bay Navy Base military commission procedures leading to a trial of some of the alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is that the death penalty is in play.

If the accused prisoners were not facing the possibility of their own execution (they don’t seem interested now in their own “martyrdom”), these years-old pre-trial maneuvers almost certainly could be shortened, and families who lost loved ones might see some kind of justice done in their lifetimes.

But even jury selection now appears to be years away for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (reported to be the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaida), Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi on charges related to the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Some of the issues that have drawn out this case have seemed minor, such as the defendants’ insistence that they didn’t want female guards touching them. Others have been more substantial, including whether a long 2014 letter that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad wrote to President Barack Obama contains state secrets (U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that it doesn’t) and whether it can be mailed to Obama (so far no determination).

In late July, Chief Prosecutor Gen. Mark Martins reported that “over the past two weeks, the commission addressed some 30 separate matters on the record, exhausting all active requests for relief on the docket that had been fully briefed and were prepared for judicial consideration.”

But, of course, that doesn’t mean the trial can begin soon. Martins makes similar reports with regularity, and no doubt an additional “30 separate matters” will be brought up again and again to be resolved before the trial can get underway.

Many international war tribunals do not use the death penalty. Indeed, the U.S. is among just a small number of nations that still uses this cruel and unusual punishment, although the number of American states abolishing capital punishment is growing.

Perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks committed monstrous atrocities. Killing those convicted of these crimes will simply add to the death toll without changing a thing that happened on that terrible day for the United States.

Taking the death penalty off the table, however, might allow some kind of justice to be achieved sooner.

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