WASHINGTON, Jan 30 – A military judge at Guantanamo Bay rejected President Barack Obama’s request to suspend the trial of a Saudi man accused in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the Pentagon said.,
The decision Thursday complicated Obama’s plan to buy time to review the cases against some 245 prisoners still held at the US military-run prison in south-eastern Cuba.
"Judge James Pohl denied the motion" put forward by the prosecution at Obama’s request to suspend the trial before the special tribunal for 120 days, said Defence Department spokesman Commander Jeffrey Gordon.
The Washington Post reported the military judge found the government’s argument in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri "unpersuasive."
"Congress passed the military commissions act, which remains in effect. The commission is bound by the law as it currently exists, not as it may change in the future," the judge wrote, according to the Post, referring to the law that set up the extraordinary commissions to try terror suspects.
Pohl further argued "the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment," the Post said.
Nashiri, 43, was due to enter a plea at a hearing set for February 9, and White House officials said the administration was now considering its options.
Following Pohl’s decision, the new administration will now have to decide whether to withdraw the charges. Nashiri is one of six detainees who could face the death penalty if found guilty.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) denounced the judge’s ruling, saying it showed officials from former president George W. Bush’s administration were "exploiting ambiguities in President Obama’s executive order as a strategy to undercut the president’s unequivocal promise to shut down Guantanamo and end the military commissions."
In his first full day in office last week, Obama ordered the closure of the controversial detention centre within a year.
But no decision has yet been made on what to do with the detainees still held at Guantanamo, most of them without charge, and many of whom cannot be returned to their home countries for various reasons.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Judge Pohl "works for somebody," referring to the official, Susan Crawford, who presides over the military commissions.
One military official told AFP the charges may be dropped but could be revived at a later date.
"The judge may drop the charges, but without prejudice, in order to avoid going to the court, and without prejudice meaning they can be reinstated any time," said the official, who asked for anonymity.
Born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Nashiri allegedly conspired to help two Islamic extremists who steered an explosives-laden barge alongside the Cole, which was docked at the port of Aden, Yemen. The attackers then detonated themselves and their load.
Nashiri was arrested in 2002, and held in a secret CIA prison for almost four years before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
In February, former CIA director Michael Hayden confirmed that US interrogators had secretly waterboarded Nashiri and two other detainees while he was in the spy agency’s custody.
According to defence lawyers, often the whole process begins again from zero in order to avoid using documents which could show the defendant had been subjected to harsh interrogations.
Obama’s administration has asked prosecutors to stay upcoming hearings of Guantanamo detainees for 120 days.
And two military judges including one trying the cases of five men accused of organizing the September 11, 2001 have agreed to the request.
Federal judges in the US District Court in Washington are also currently presiding over hundreds of cases brought by Guantanamo detainees challenging their detention.