JANUARY 23, 2012
Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba—The U.S. military tribunal hearing al-Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s capital punishment trial convened for two days last week to rule on a series of pretrial motions. Al-Nashiri is charged with orchestrating the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole and a Pentagon intelligence report describes him as one of al-Qaeda’s most skilled, capable and prolific operational coordinators.
The Yemen national was formally charged in November and Judicial Watch was approved by the Department of Defense (DOD) to monitor the arraignment in a top security courtroom at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Read about that here. JW also traveled to Gitmo for last week’s two-day hearing, which focused largely on protecting Al-Nashiri’s rights.
His army of topnotch attorneys—both military and civilian—argued at length to convince the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, that al-Nashiri’s mail not be monitored at the military compound that houses the world’s most dangerous terrorists. Prosecutors, consisting of military and Justice Department attorneys, countered by putting the admiral (David Woods) who runs the prison on the stand to explain that detainees’ legal mail is promptly marked after being identified and not read to preserve attorney-client privilege.
Admiral Woods also said that guard checks must be conducted to ensure no contraband makes into the facility that houses 171 prisoners. At a press conference after the first day of proceedings the chief prosecutor, Army General Mark Martins, explained that military commissions have the challenging task of giving the accused a fair trial while preserving a free press and protecting national security.
All of the defendants in the system have been “zealously represented again and again,” General Martins said, adding that “we want fairness for the accused but must also protect state secrets.” Al-Nashiri’s lead defense attorney, Richard Kammen, complained that the defense was “under resourced” and estimated the trial would not begin until 2016. He also criticized military commissions, asserting that defendants cannot get the sort of fair trial afforded in the federal court system.
Al-Nashiri’s lead civilian attorney, Kammen, has impressive credentials as a renowned death-penalty lawyer who has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal district courts throughout the nation. At this week’s proceedings Kammen revealed that 35 experts had already been lined up to testify and that the defense investigation, funded by U.S. taxpayers, will be extensive and will span five different countries.
Judge Pohl has ardently challenged prosecutors at hearings and has gone out of his way to assure that al-Nashiri, who has an Arabic translator during proceedings, understands all of his rights. Stocky and sporting a white prison uniform, al-Nashiri was escorted by half a dozen military officers. He strutted by on his way out, looking directly at the observer gallery where family members of the murdered Cole sailors watched proceedings.
Some of them spoke to the media after court. They told devastating stories of how their sons, daughters and husbands were murdered by terrorists while serving their country. One Cole crew member who survived the attack broke down at the podium and said al-Nashiri doesn’t deserve the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The USS Cole was the target of a suicide attack while the warship was moored and being refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors were killed and dozens were injured. The blast occurred when a skiff laden with explosives detonated against the port-side hull of the USS Cole and tore a 40-by-40-foot hole in the side of the stricken ship. It was the deadliest attack against a U.S. Naval vessel since the Iraqi attack on the USS Stark in May 1987.
Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attack. In 2002, al-Nashiri was captured in the United Arab Emirates and charged with being the mastermind of the bombing. He has been a prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay facility since September 2006. Previous to that, he was held in a secret CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) location. His next hearing is scheduled for some time in April, according to the judge.
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