2,500 convicts, yet no 9/11 accused has gone to the gallows

Barack Obama has focused on eliminating the leadership of the terror group held responsible for the 9/11 attack.

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In the 10 years since the traumatic 9/11 terror attacks, the United States has arrested nearly 3,000 on terrorism charges and convicted over 2,500, but not one accused has gone to the gallows.

It's not due to any great aversion to the death penalty among the Americans that terror suspects have escaped the death penalty as there is still support for capital punishment in the US and there are as many as 3,251 prisoners in 34 of America's 50 states on the death row, according to Death Penalty Information Centre.

As of now, only 16 states do not have the death penalty. Since 1853, 10 states have abolished it, starting with Wisconsin. Wyoming followed in 1911, the capital city of Washington DC in 1981 and New York in 2007. Ten more are planning to do so.

Even so, since 1976, as many as 1,266 convicts have been executed, including 32 this year. But all the executions have been for murders and not terrorism related crimes.

Given the uncertainties of the US justice system, President Barack Obama has largely focused on eliminating the leadership of the terror group held responsible for the 9/11 attack as part of his strategy to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda."

"The perpetrators of those attacks wanted to terrorise us, but they are no match for our resilience. Today, our country is more secure and our enemies are weaker," Obama wrote in an op-ed published in the USA Today ahead of tenth anniversary of the attacks.

"Yet while we have delivered justice to Osama bin Laden and put Al Qaeda on the path to defeat, we must never waver in the task of protecting our nation," he wrote without mentioning the May raid to kill the 9/11 mastermind in his hideout in Pakistan or a flurry of drone strikes to kill several others.

Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes was more explicit in telling the foreign media that bin Laden's elimination was "a gigantic and both symbolic and operational victory" that "cemented a trend of leadership degradation" that continues.

Rhodes cited in particular the killing of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir born Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the top masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai attack in June and Al Qaeda's new deputy leader, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, in August in CIA drone strikes.

In all eight people charged with major terrorism crimes have been reported killed overseas. But in the courts, the US record has been somewhat mixed though the conviction rate has gone up tremendously.

Of the 196 among 345 terrorism cases brought to court since the Sep 11 attacks, 178 have ended in convictions, either through a guilty plea or a jury's decision, according to a media report citing government documents.

About eight dozen defendants are still awaiting trial and more than 50 defendants are fugitives overseas or being held by other countries awaiting extradition.

Apart from these, 775 detainees have been brought to Guantanamo detention camp established in 2002 by the Bush Administration within the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the Cuba island to hold and interrogate detainees from the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq. 

Of these, most have been released without charge or transferred to facilities in their home countries and only three have been convicted by military court of various charges.

David Hicks was found guilty under retrospective legislation introduced in 2006 of providing material support for terrorism in 2001. Salim Hamdan accepted a position on Osama bin Laden's personal staff as a chauffeur. Ali al-Bahlul made a video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole.

In March 2007, Pakistan born 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed during a secret hearing at Guantanamo: "I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z."

A year later, the US Department of Defence charged Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Walid Bin Attash for the Sep 11 attacks under the military commission system.

But on Feb 5, 2009, charges against another person, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were dropped without prejudice following an order signed by Obama to suspend trials for 120 days as he announced plans to close the military detention facilities.

But with Congress posing "a chief obstacle to our efforts to close Guantanamo" as Rhodes said, and lawmakers opposing trials on the US mainland, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 15 other high-value detainees are still cooling their heels at the Cuba facility.

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