Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Charges Dropped against USS Cole Bombing Suspect

The move, which brings the tribunal into compliance with Obama's Guantánamo stay order, allows charges to be reinstated later.

By Arthur Bright

The Pentagon has dismissed charges against a suspect being held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in connection with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Saudi Arabia.

Reuters reports that the dismissal brings the Pentagon fully into compliance with President Barack Obama's request for a 120-day stay of all military tribunals of terrorism suspects.

The move avoided a showdown between the U.S. military and President Barack Obama. It cancelled a hearing that had been set for Monday in the Guantánamo war crimes court, despite the fact Obama had ordered a freeze in proceedings there.

Susan Crawford, the retired judge who oversees the commissions, issued a ruling dismissing without prejudice all charges against Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, said Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander J.D. Gordon.

Nashiri is accused of plotting the attack on the Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000.

The BBC writes that the attack in 2000 occurred when two militants blew up a small boat loaded with explosives next to the anchored Cole. The attack killed 17 US sailors. Mr. Nashiri was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 on charges of conspiring with the militants, and was later transferred to Guantánamo.

The Washington Post writes that the Judge Crawford's decision to dismiss charges without prejudice means that the Obama administration could reinstate charges against Nashiri at a later date. Had the trial continued in defiance of Mr. Obama's request, reinstatement of charges may not have been possible.

The tactic was also used by the Bush administration when it wanted to stop various proceedings at Guantánamo. The Pentagon under Bush dismissed without prejudice charges in six cases and reinstated them later in three of those cases.

If the case had proceeded against Nashiri, a Saudi facing capital charges, a guilty plea could have boxed in the administration. The legal principle of double jeopardy would apply, and it would have been very difficult to move his case to another court, according to defense attorneys.

McClatchy reports that Nashiri's case "presents especially difficult problems for the Obama administration because he is one of three detainees held at Guantánamo that the CIA has admitted were subjected to waterboarding while in secret detention." Agence France-Presse adds that former CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted last February that Nashiri and two other terrorism suspects had been waterboarded while in CIA custody.

The Guardian writes that the dismissal of charges against Nashiri comes as Obama is set to meet with family members of the victims of the USS Cole bombing and the 9/11 attacks.

Ahead of today's meeting, a White House statement said Obama wanted to "talk with these families about resolving the issues involved with closing Guantánamo Bay – while keeping the safety and security of the American people as his top priority."

Among those due to meet the president is the former commander of the Cole, retired navy commander Kirk Lippold, who has been critical of the decision to close Guantánamo.

"I'm going to listen," he said. "The families have already been through enough. Don't put the families through even more of this agony."

The retired New York fire chief Jim Riches, whose son was killed at the World Trade Centre, is another of those invited. "My concern is these guys killed my son and I'd like to see justice served on them," he said yesterday. "I'd like to see Guantánamo stay open but my main concern is that we get the justice we deserve."

The Miami Herald adds that Mr. Riches said the families meeting with Obama are not a single political bloc.

[Riches] described the 15 families meeting Obama as spanning the political spectrum, including "the very liberal that are against torture and everything else."

The chief said the issue was inclusion, and that victim families wanted a say in what kind of prosecutions the government would pursue.

"It shows that he's reaching out to the people," he said. "At least we'll get to voice our opinion."


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