Army Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, the chief prosecutor of the alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 terror attacks, who served throughout the Obama and Trump administrations, is retiring less than two months before the 20th anniversary of the deadly events of 2001.
The abrupt departure comes as Pentagon officials are gearing up for the first hearings since February 2020, set for September, in the problem-plagued trial of five men accused of plotting the hijackings that killed 2,976 people in New York at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field.
The announcement was made in a message to the families of the victims of the four coordinated attacks by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda* by Karen Loftus, director of the prosecution team's Victim Witness Assistance Programme.
Revealed on 8 July and cited by NPR, the move throws into question the likelihood that the trial schedule will be met.
No clarification was offered regarding the reasons behind the early exit of the prosecutor, which comes as a surprise given that Martins had repeatedly delayed his retirement and was scheduled to remain in the position until 2023. Ms. Loftus said General Martins chose to retire “in the best interests of the ongoing cases.”
It was added that the timing offered “an ideal window to identify a successor” as proceedings are “finally in view again for all of our cases following the pandemic-driven hiatus.”
Defence officials were cited by the outlet as saying a board was likely to be assembled to select a new chief prosecutor, while General Martins’s civilian deputy, Michael J. O’Sullivan, would serve as acting chief prosecutor. Martins himself has not offered an official comment.
Mired in Pretrial Proceedings
The administration of then-President Barack Obama opted to pursue the Sept. 11 death-penalty case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the four accused accomplices of the attacks at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, rather than in a federal court.
However, since the men’s arraignment in May 2011 after their captures in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003, the process has been beleaguered by setbacks and protracted pretrial proceedings.
Besides the frequent turnover of judges – two of the three military officers who presided in the case retired from service, while another left the bench to take up a position in the Marine Corps – the sides had to contend with questions related to the ongoing legal debate. The latter pertained to whether evidence obtained through torture of the defendants in CIA prisons before their 2006 transfers to Guantánamo could be used at trial.
The Justice Department ordered FBI agents to question the accused again at Guantánamo in 2007 in an effort to obtain confessions “untainted by torture” after their stint in CIA custody. Defence lawyers have been challenging FBI interrogations in lengthy court proceedings.
The coronavirus crisis complicated efforts as it cut off most access to Guantánamo. Furthermore, one military court judge quit last year after just two weeks on the job. The chief defence counsel in the case, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, is also retiring in November.
*al-Qaeda is designated as terrorist group in Russia and other countries.