Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks is seen shortly after his capture in Pakistan in 2003. UPI Photo/File | License Photo
Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Four days before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11., 2001, attacks, the federal terrorism prosecution against accused plot mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is scheduled to resume on Tuesday -- after he's spent the last two decades in prison.
Mohammed has been held since his capture in 2003 at the Guantanamo Bay naval prison in Cuba. Over the past 20 years, his prosecution has been beset by a series of delays and drawn-out legal maneuvers by the U.S. government.
Mohammed, 57, and four other accused al-Qaida militants face a new judge presiding over the military commission. The pretrial window that begins Tuesday will last until Sept. 17 and the trial is expected to begin in earnest in April.
Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi and Mustafa al Hawsawi could face capital charges for their roles in the attacks. If convicted, they would face possible execution.
The last in-person hearing in the case was held in February 2020.
In the coming months, panel members consisting of military officers will be chosen for the trial, a process that could take a couple of months. Col. Matthew McCall will become the fourth judge to preside over Mohammed's case.
Mohammed and the other four were formally charged in 2012 but repeated delays have put off the main trial proceedings.
One of the hurdles that must be cleared before the trial can begin is what evidence is admissible. The national security sensitivity of the case is expected to influence what can be presented, as well as the length of time the five have been in U.S. military custody.
Defense attorneys have argued that the men have been conditioned over many years to give answers U.S. interrogators wanted to hear, to avoid excessive torture.
The military commission was established by former President George W. Bush in 2001, revised in 2006 and amended again in 2009. Former President Barack Obama unsuccessfully attempted to transfer the detainees and close the prison at Guantanamo.
According to prosecutors and the 9/11 Commission, Mohammed was the chief plotter of the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and at a plane crash site in western Pennsylvania. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003.
Mohammed's trial was initially scheduled to resume in January, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proceedings were also delayed by the recusal and resignation of two other military judges.
The $12 million courtroom at Guantanamo Bay was built in 2008 specifically for the trial. It includes a soundproof galley where reporters and 9/11 families are allowed to watch the proceedings.
The proceedings will air on closed-circuit TV at Fort Meade, Md., but classified information will be kept secret. No audio or video from the courtroom will be made public.
Another pretrial continuation for Mohammed and the co-conspirators is scheduled for November.
Rays of light burst off a building at 1 Liberty Plaza to silhouette two firefighters surveying Ground Zero at dawn on September 15, 2001. Photo by Chris Corder/UPI | License Photo