NEW YORK — The suspected mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, along with four other defendants, could escape the death penalty under a plea agreement being considered.
The prosecution of the 9/11 defendants at Guantanamo Bay has been delayed for years, but military prosecutors and defense lawyers had begun exploring a negotiated resolution to the case.
A potential deal that’s being floated, however, has infuriated some 9/11 victims’ family members.
Daniel Belardinelli lost his uncle William Cashman on Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on 9/11.
“Generally, I just think that the consensus is that it’s a bad deal,” Belardinelli said.
He says the five defendants, including the suspected mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, deserve no mercy.
“I’m personally a very forgiving person, as is my family, but their actions are unforgiveable,” Belardinelli said.
The Pentagon sent a letter to 9/11 families, revealing plea deals are being considered in which the five men would accept criminal responsibility for their actions and plead guilty in exchange for not receiving the death penalty.
“It’s more heartbroken,” said Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ron, died in the World Trade Center.
She cannot understand why a deal would be offered.
“I thought I lived in the United States of America. I thought we were a nation based upon on the rule of law, and obviously that’s turned out not to be the case,” she said.
The five men have been at Guantanamo in a kind of legal limbo with delays and disputes that have grinded the wheels of justice to a practical halt — in part because the CIA interrogations of the suspects that critics called torture.
A lawyer for one of the defendants said last year a plea deal would end the impasse.
“He is willing to plead guilty to serve a long sentence at Guantanamo in exchange for medical care for his torture and taking the death penalty off the table,” defense attorney James Connell said.
But that’s not enough for Belardinelli when he thinks about the horror of Flight 93.
“I was supposed to be on the flight. I canceled … And I saw the photo of the field and it just made me think, ‘That’s where I could have died,'” he said. “They’re taking off the death penalty off the table for someone that committed a heinous crime, beyond heinous … These are awful. These aren’t– they’re not even human, what they did.”
The Pentagon’s letter to families says that no plea agreement has been finalized and may never be.
The military prosecutors say they will consider the views of family members before they make any final decision.