9/11 defendants awaiting a verdict might never receive the death penalty

August 17, 2023
9/11 memorial in New York City

… it is possible that a PTA [pre-trial agreement] in this case would remove the possibility of the death penalty.

The Pentagon and FBI in a letter sent to many of the families of those who were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press and its existence was confirmed on Thursday by Pentagon Press Secretary, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

Background: Five men held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – are facing charges before a United States military tribunal. They are accused of aiding the 19 men who hijacked multiple planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people. The charges include terrorism, conspiracy and murder in violation of the law of war – and carry the death penalty. Their trial has been delayed numerous times and does not currently have a start date.

Why It Matters: According to The Associated Press' reporting, many of the families whose loved ones were killed in the 9/11 attacks received a letter from the Pentagon and FBI this week which explains, "The Office of the Chief Prosecutor has been negotiating and is considering entering into pre-trial agreements." The letter notes that though no plea agreement "has been finalized, and may never be finalized, it is possible that a PTA in this case would remove the possibility of the death penalty." The AP reports that the letter asks the families "to respond by Monday to the FBI's victim services division with any comments or questions about the possibility of such a plea agreement," noting that "The FBI had no comment Wednesday on the letter."

In a press briefing on Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, was asked about this report and responded: "We are aware that a letter was recently sent by the Office of the Chief Prosecutor for Military Commissions to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attack. However, because the specific cases are ongoing it would be really inappropriate for me to discuss it at this point, so any questions on that I'd have to refer you to the Office of Military Commissions."

Some responses from family members: Peter Brady, whose father was killed on 9/11, explained that he views a trial as "holding people responsible, and they’re taking that away with this plea." Others have argued for a trial in a civilian court since the military tribunal has not led to a trial yet. Retired New York City Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who lost his son in 9/11, expressed frustration about the legal process and said this about those held in prison awaiting trial: “Those guys are still alive. Our children are dead."

Plea negotiations could mean no 9/11 defendants face the death penalty, the US tells families

by Jenna Lee,