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9/11 prosecutors in plea talks with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, report says

The alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks and four others could avoid the death penalty under a plea deal being negotiated by prosecutors, New York Times reports
A picture posted on the website www.muslm.net on 3 September 2009 allegedly shows Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
A picture posted on the website www.muslm.net on 3 September 2009 allegedly shows Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp (AFP)

Prosecutors have reportedly opened negotiations for a potential plea deal that could eliminate a death penalty trial for the accused plotters of the 9/11 terror attacks, including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that discussions about a plea began last week, and the case's judge, defence and prosecution teams travelled to Guantanamo Bay for three weeks of hearings regarding the matter.

Lead case prosecutor Clayton G Trivett Jr wrote to the defence teams proposing that they discuss "whether pre-trial agreements are possible for all five cases," the Times reported.

"While I cannot guarantee that we will come to terms over these next two weeks... putting a concerted effort focused solely on possible agreements while we are all onboard Guantanamo, where your clients and teams are present, may be our best chance of at least determining if deals can be reached," Trivett said in the email.

The legal case against the five men was started under former US President George Bush but has been stuck in pretrial as a result of complications of allegations surrounding the CIA's torture of the defendants.

It has also been delayed by a nearly two-year closure of the court due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

During a previous failed trial attempt under the Trump administration, the five men demanded that they complete their sentences at Guantanamo in an apparent effort to avoid a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where inmates are detained in solitude for up to 23 hours a day.

Congress in 2010 banned the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to US soil after the administration proposed relocating them to a maximum-security prison in Illinois.

The Times reported that while no deal is expected soon, guilty pleas resulting in life sentences could force the Biden administration to modify its ambition of ending detention operations at Guantanamo Bay and instead rebrand it as a military prison for a few men.

Since 2002, roughly 780 detainees have been held at the prison, but only 38 remain.

Of those, 19 have been approved for repatriation or resettlement by the review board and another seven are eligible for review.

US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated his aim is to close the prison. But so far, only one prisoner has been transferred back to his home country since he became president.