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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could help 9/11 families in Saudi Arabia lawsuit if death penalty dropped: Letter

Key Points
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, might help the families of victims of those attacks with testimony in their civil lawsuit against the government of Saudi Arabia if the U.S. government abandons a bid to execute him via military tribunal, a court filing revealed.
  • The senior al-Qaeda lieutenant has been held for nearly 13 years at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where he and four other accused terrorists are charged with war crimes related to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
  • A lawyer for the families said that the plaintiffs' legal team had "reached out [to KSM's lawyers] because obviously we want to do everything we can to document the Saudi involvement in 9/11."
In a file photo Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, is seen shortly after his capture during a raid in Pakistan Saturday March 1, 2003, in this photo obtained by the Associated Press.
AP Photo

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, might help the families of victims of those attacks with testimony in their civil lawsuit against the government of Saudi Arabia if the U.S. government abandons a bid to execute him via military tribunal, a new court filing revealed.

Lawyers for the victims' families, in a letter to the judge overseeing the case, said they had learned from Mohammed's lawyers that he is not willing to be deposed in that civil case "at the present time."

KSM's attorneys "stated that the 'primary driver' of this decision is the 'capital nature of the prosecution" against the former top lieutenant to the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to the letter from the plaintiffs' lawyers, whose clients allege that the Saudi government supported and funded the 9/11 attacks.

"In the absence of a potential death sentence much broader cooperation would be possible," KSM's attorneys told the plaintiffs' lawyers, according to their letter filed Friday with Judge Sarah Netburn in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The letter was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Monday, the same day President Donald Trump signed into law a bill to replenish billions of dollars in funds for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The 55-year-old KSM has been held for nearly 13 years at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo, Cuba, where he and four other accused terrorists are charged with war crimes related to the 9/11 attacks using three hijacked airplanes on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, along with the fourth hijacking of a commercial airliner that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after first being flown toward Washington, D.C. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Nearly 3,000 people perished in those attacks.

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KSM's case at Guantanamo before a military tribunal has dragged out since 2012 without a trial even being scheduled yet. KSM was subjected to so-called enhanced interrogations by the CIA — what many call torture — that included repeated waterboarding and sleep deprivation — before he was sent to Guantanamo.

The letter to the judge noted that lawyers for KSM's co-defendant at Guantanamo, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, "is presently awaiting his client's instructions as to how he wants to proceed" with a request that he give a deposition in the case. And counsel for another defendant at Guantanamo, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, told the plaintiffs' lawyers that Ali "respectfully declines to be deposed" in light of "memory and cognitive difficulties, among other issues."

James Kreindler, a lawyer for the victims' families, in an interview with CNBC said, "I don't know" if he believed KSM's offer was serious.

Kreindler said that plaintiffs had "reached out [to KSM] because obviously we want to do everything we can to document the Saudi involvement in 9/11."

""I have no idea whether he'll ever cooperate," Kreindler said. "Guys on our team have been pressing this ... [for] a while."

"On the case we're making a lot of progress," Kreindler said. "With him I don't know."

"Whether we'll get a deposition and whether he'll be honest, who knows."

Kreindler also said, "I'm very optimistic about the 9/11 families winning the case against Saudi Arabia."

Robert Haefele, another attorney who signed the letter with Kreindler, also said he did not know if KSM's offer of help is genuine, but also said that the victims' families "don't plan on leaving any stone unturned."

"The families have persisted in their efforts for more than a decade," Haefele said. "Our view is that the dam of information now has a crack in it."

"The families just aren't going away. We'll keep pulling at the strings until we get to the truth of the matter."