After 15 years in Guantanamo Bay, no trial date is in sight for 9/11 attack suspects

The ‘9/11 Five’ are expected in court on Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing

Alka Pradhan has dedicated the past decade of her life to trying secure the release of detainees at the US military detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The human rights lawyer represents Ammar Al Baluchi, one of the ‘9/11 Five’ who are accused of helping the hijackers to carry out the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

Mr Al Baluchi and the four other accused, who include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks, were taken to Guantanamo exactly 15 years ago.

Then president George W Bush announced the transfer of 14 “high-value” detainees to Guantanamo.

“It's important for Americans and others across the world to understand the kind of people held at Guantanamo,” Mr Bush said.

“These aren't common criminals, or bystanders accidentally swept up on the battlefield. We have in place a rigorous process to ensure those held at Guantanamo Bay belong at Guantanamo.”

He acknowledged the existence of CIA detention sites around the world.

At the time Ms Pradhan was starting her third year in law school. She was already interested in human rights law.

“I anticipated my career, working on war crimes issues on behalf of, or certainly in accordance with, US values,” she told The National.

“I did not anticipate my career being arguing against the United States having committed war crimes and crimes like torture.”

The US decision to send detainees to Guantanamo Bay set in motion legal proceedings that have outlasted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seem to have no end in sight.

Fifteen years after the men arrived and nearly 20 years after the attacks for which they are accused, they still do not have trial date.

Defence lawyers allege the decision to try the case in a Military Commission at Guantanamo instead of in federal court in New York is an attempt to cover up the interrogation methods used by the CIA against the accused.

“Make no mistake, covering up torture is the reason that these men were brought to Guantanamo,” said James Connell, counsel for Mr Al Baluchi.

“The continuing cover-up of torture is the reason that indefinite detention at Guantanamo still exists.”

The case has been marred by government bureaucracy and mismanagement. Since 2008, there has been a revolving door of judges, defence lawyers and prosecutors.

“If 15 years of indefinite detention at Guantanamo have proved anything, it is that justice for America cannot coexist with the abandonment of American democratic principles,” Mr Connell said.

Judge Col Matthew McCall of the Air Force was assigned to the case on August 20, 2021.

Col McCall has scheduled pretrial hearings for Tuesday, September 7. This will be the first time the five will appear in court since the pandemic halted proceedings in February 2020.

Progress is expected to be slow. There is little hope of the trial starting before the end of the year, which had been the plan before the pandemic.

Now Col McCall must familiarise himself with the case before the proceedings can begin.

Updated: September 7th 2021, 6:26 PM