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October 23, 2012

Another False Start at Guantanamo?

I’m on the ground in Guantanamo Bay this week to observe pre-trial hearings in the military commissions case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who stands trial for his suspected involvement with the 2000 USS Cole bombing, the USS Sullivans attempted bombing, and the bombing of a French civilian oil tanker M.V. Limburg.

It has already been eleven months since al-Nashiri’s arraignment, and yet the court is still considering motions on preliminary procedural issues. The issue this morning: Judge Pohl, the Guantanamo Bay presiding judge, denied the government’s motion to compel al-Nashiri to attend all of the proceedings. He has refused in protest of the chains the guards use to escort him from his cell to the courtoom. Until today’s ruling, we were still unclear as to whether or not the defendant had to show up.

Judge Pohl ruled that al-Nashiri must appear in court periodically, yet his appearance is solely to confirm that he is waiving his right to appear. Defense had argued that because al-Nashiri was subject to torture at the hands of U.S. authorities the process of using belly chains to transport him would further traumatize him.

After making this ruling, Judge Pohl recessed the court for the day so that defense counsel could have time to advise their client of the situation. But as defense argued that they are not allowed to visit their client at the detention facility, they may not be able to meet with him on such short notice. And so we ended the day with seemingly little accomplished.

Adding a bit more drama to the proceedings here this week is Tropical Storm Sandry. The observers are currently awaiting word as to whether or not the hearings will be cancelled and if we need to be evacuated. The storm is expected to make landfall in Cuba over the coming days, threatening the tent city that makes up part of Camp Justice.

If the proceedings are delayed, it would be the second time in the past few months due to severe weather. Another false start is not what we need. These trials could take place in the U.S. mainland in a federal court; I hear the weather in much of the country is lovely this time of year.