The five Guantanamo detainees charged with coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks told a military judge on Monday that they wanted to confess in full, a move that seemed to challenge the government to put them to death and injected new complications in the Bush administration’s military commission system here.
The request, which was the result of hours of private meetings among the detainees, appeared intended to undercut the government’s plan for a high profile trial while drawing international attention to what some of the five men have said was a desire for martyrdom. But the military judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley of the Army, said a series of legal questions about how the commissions are to deal with capital cases had to be resolved before guilty pleas could be accepted.
The case is likely to remain in limbo for weeks or months, presenting the Obama administration with a new issue involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay to resolve when it takes office next month.
At the start of what had been listed as routine proceedings Monday, Henley said he had received a written statement from the five men dated Nov. 4 that said the five planned to stop filing legal motions and “to announce our confessions to plea in full.”
Speaking in what has become a familiar high-pitched tone in the cavernous courtroom here, the most prominent of the five, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, said, “we don’t want to waste our time with motions.”
“All of you are paid by the U.S. government,” continued Mohammed, who has described himself as the mastermind of the 2001 attacks. “I’m not trusting any American.”
Mohammed and the others presented their decision almost as a dare to the U.S. government. When Henley raised questions about the procedure for imposing the death penalty after a guilty plea, some of the detainees immediately suggested they might change their minds if they could not be assured they would be executed.
The announcement Monday sent shockwaves through the biggest case in the war crimes system here, which some government officials say the system was designed to try. With the 9/11 case suddenly at a critical juncture, the new administration in Washington will likely find it more complicated to carry out Obama’s pledge to close the detention camp here. Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for the presidential transition office, declined to comment.