As Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra famously said, “it’s déjà vu all over again.” Though this time instead of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hitting back to back home runs in the early 1960’s, we’re witnessing the Obama administration re-filing charges in the Sept. 11 military commission at Guantanamo.
First charged by prosecutors back on February 11, 2008, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafah al Hawsawi were arraigned before a military judge at Guantanamo four months later on June 5.
The five men made a handful of antic-filled court appearances until January 21, 2009 when it all came to a screeching halt within 24 hours of President Obama taking office. And then all charges were formally dropped a year later on January 22, 2010 -- clearing the way for civilian trials in the U.S. mainland.
So how did we come full circle?
Faced with multiple setbacks in Congress and having misread the sentiment of the American people – most of whom actually view preventing terrorist attacks as more important than granting Constitutional rights to foreign terror suspects, Team Obama reluctantly concluded that Gitmo was too hard to close and military commissions really weren’t so bad after all.
Now it’s three plus years later -- and we’re back to square 1.
Despite an agonizing delay for countless Sept. 11 victim family members who seek justice, is at least better than Attorney General Eric Holder’s preferred option -- the New York-based civilian trial that would have cost taxpayers $200 million a year in security and given Al Qaeda a megaphone to spur home-grown sympathizers into action.
The charges unveiled this week sound familiar too… conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking aircraft and terrorism.
It’s hard to tell precisely when we will see KSM, et al back in front of a military judge since there are a number of legal and administrative steps that Convening Authority retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald and the Office of Military Commissions need to complete before we see that day. If history is any guide, it could be several months away.
Ramadan this year will be celebrated from August 1-30, and it’s highly unlikely the Obama administration would purposely create Gitmo world headlines over the holiest month in the Muslim calendar.
September is entirely possible – particularly Sept. 11. How fitting would that be to arraign KSM, et al on the 10th anniversary of that horrific event?
And if symbolism is important to the Obama administration, it certainly hasn’t been lost on the Office of Military Commissions either. In what critics saw as a gauntlet thrown down before the new president, pre-trial hearings in the Sept. 11 military commission were held during inauguration week.
Whatever the date ends up being, we’re sure to see more bizarre behavior from those on trial. It's guaranteed to be part theater, part propaganda -- all of it riveting. KSM can be a charismatic speaker. And his high-pitched voice, oddly reminiscent of Mike Tyson’s, alternated between singing verses from the Koran in Arabic and usually cordial discussions with the judge in fluent English.
Whether KSM will get another chance to have his nose re-drawn to his specifications by veteran sketch artist Janet Hamlin, or whether or not Walid Bin Attash casually sails a second paper airplane through the courtroom remains to be seen.
Up to 60 media, several NGO observers, and a handful of Sept. 11 victim family members drawn by lottery will be on hand to see the arraignment, so they’ll get to view KSM up close and in person.
Once the arraignment and months of pre-trial hearings are over, the actual trial may not take long though - KSM had reached the point of entering a guilty plea in Jan. 2009.
And since the prosecution is seeking the death penalty, the next steps will be how and when one or more of them will be executed – and where to bury them.
Would Mr. Obama authorize a burial at sea, like for Al Qaeda kingpin Usama Bin Laden? Who knows -- stranger things have happened. Like his many reversals on Gitmo and preference for killing terror suspects with increased drone strikes rather than sending them there.
J.D. Gordon is a communications consultant to several Washington, D.C. think tanks and retired Navy commander who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009 as the Pentagon's spokesman for the Western Hemisphere. For more info visit www.gordoncohenstrategies.com.