WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Conspiracy charges have been dropped against Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other detainees charged with war crimes, the U.S. Defense Department says.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said Wednesday the decision aims to protect the case from appeals in the civilian courts, The Miami Herald reported. Mohammed and his co-defendants could still face the death penalty if they are convicted on other charges.
"This action helps ensure the prosecution proceeds undeterred by legal challenge," Martins, who heads the prosecution for the Defense Department, said in a statement.
Mohammed, a member of al-Qaida, was allegedly the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with the 9/11 Commission calling him "the principal architect." The charges include 2,976 counts of murder for everyone killed at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and on United Flight 93.
In October, a U.S. appeals court overturned the conviction of Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, on the grounds that providing material support for terrorism was not recognized as an international war crime in U.S. law until 2006. Ali Hamza al Bahlul, a Yemeni national sentenced to life, is appealing his conviction on the grounds that conspiracy was also not a war crime in 2001.
Mohammed and his co-defendants are to be tried by a military tribunal. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28.