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April 14, 2014

FBI Investigation May Halt 9/11 Guantanamo Hearings

Lawyers for 9/11 defendant Ramzi Bin Al Shibh today asked military commissions judge Army Colonel James Pohl to stop the proceedings against him and other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators at Guantanamo Bay. According to his attorneys, the FBI is apparently asking Al Shibh questions about his and other 9/11 defendants' attorneys, and has asked him to sign a document having to do with an investigation into the defense teams. 

Disruptions like this one are a regular occurrence in the Guantanamo military commission court. The proceedings, still in pre-trial hearings after years, have been halted by CIA interference, monitoring of attorney-client communications, and dozens of unclear rules that must all be debated and sorted out before the trial—arguably one of the most important in U.S. history—can start. 

By now, these difficulties seem built into the military commission system, which has been reformed three times; the legality of the latest incarnation has not been ruled on by U.S. federal courts, and its rules are debated in every session. U.S. federal courts, on the other hand, try terrorism cases regularly and without incident, drawing on clear rules and decades of precedent.

The defense teams apparently discovered the FBI investigation last week and have been sent scrambling to discover whom the FBI has talked to on their teams and the nature of the investigation. Defense attorneys say that whatever the investigation involves, it results in a conflict of interest between their own self-interest (as the subject of an investigation) and that of their clients.

Judge Pohl decided to address a different matter first, a closed-court motion from the prosecution, and adjourned the court until tomorrow, when he may take up the matter of the FBI investigation.

Before this decision, chief prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins said that he hoped to have one hearing without a motion to abate the proceedings. No such luck. In the Guantanamo military commissions, problems are the norm, and justice is an increasingly elusive ideal.