News Release

Death Penalty Charges Referred for Accused 9/11 Defendants

Washington, DC (April 5, 2012) – The Pentagon yesterday formally referred charges against five Guantanamo detainees accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. A retired admiral in charge of the military commissions recommended that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants face the death penalty if convicted by a military commission. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers reiterates its position that these prosecutions be returned to federal court for proper trials.

The military commission system falls far short of bedrock American principles of fairness and due process. Evidence presented in any death penalty proceeding must be of the highest reliability. The present commission system still permits the government to introduce hearsay and derivative evidence obtained through the coercive and extreme interrogation methods of years past.

Just last month, the Attorney General restated his long held belief that the federal court system has proven to be an unparalleled instrument for trying terrorism cases. Federal courts have handled hundreds of terrorism cases—compared to only 7 cases handled by the military commission since 2001—without security breaches, and federal prosecutors have the tools for prosecuting persons believed to be terrorists, including over 40 specific terrorism statutes and nearly 100 other federal criminal laws.

“Politics has no place in death penalty proceedings,” said NACDL President Lisa M. Wayne. “Despite cosmetic changes over the years, the commission rules still permit the government to introduce secret evidence, hearsay and evidence obtained through coercion. NACDL maintains that the rules and procedures for these commission trials raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to constitutional principles upon which our country was founded. That the government would pull these prosecutions from the federal courts and seek the death penalty for these defendants in a system that was designed to convict is deeply troubling.”

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Jack King, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7628 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.