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In 9/11 suspects' bid to confess, a blow to US tribunal system

Judge at five Guantánamo detainees' trial weighs their bid to quit legal fight – and their mental competency.

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The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and four codefendents being held at the US military's Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba appear to be trying to seize control of their own fates – even if that brings the day of their possible executions closer.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told a military judge on Monday that he and his fellows wished to immediately confess at their war-crimes tribunal, setting up likely guilty pleas and impositions of the death penalty.

It's not clear whether the five Guantánamo detainees will immediately get their stated wish. The judge in the proceedings, Army Col. Stephen Henley, said two of them cannot file pleas until the military determines whether they are mentally competent. Mr. Mohammed and the remaining defendants then said they would wait, so they could all plead together.

But at the least the defendants' surprise move is another blow to the Bush administration's teetering tribunal system. After all the evidence of harsh treatment the US has meted out to war-on-terror detainees, the Guantánamo proceedings shouldn't give the impression that the tribunals are eagerly accepting applications for martyrdom, says one expert.

"It's important for the system not to be seen as assisting suicide," says Hurst Hannum, a professor of international law at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

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