USS Cole attack case now on indefinite hold at Guantanamo
MIAMI (AP) — A military judge on Friday placed an indefinite hold on proceedings at the Guantanamo Bay naval base against a Saudi accused in an attack on a U.S. warship.
Air Force Col. Vance Spath ordered an abatement of the military commission for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, saying he needed a higher civilian or military court to weigh in on a series of legal issues that have emerged over the decision by most of the defense team to quit the case. No further hearings will be held and one scheduled for March at the U.S. base in Cuba has now been canceled.
Al-Nashiri is accused of orchestrating the deadly October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors and wounded 37. He could get the death penalty if convicted by the commission of charges that include terrorism and murder for his alleged role in the al-Qaida plot.
The military commission proceedings have repeatedly stalled since al-Nashiri’s arraignment in 2011.
This latest issue began to emerge last fall when the most senior member of his legal team, an experienced death penalty lawyer, said he had an ethical duty to resign because of an unspecified violation of attorney-client privilege. Two other attorneys, who are civilians but work as contract lawyers with the Department of Defense, also left the case with the approval of the chief defense counsel.
Spath ruled there was no violation of the attorney-client privilege and directed the lawyers to resume their work with the case. They have refused and the remaining member of the team refused to actively defend the accused, saying he lacked the requisite death-penalty experience. The judge said in abating the proceedings that a higher court must decide whether and how the case should now go forward.
The government is studying his ruling and transcripts of the proceedings as it decides what to do next, said Navy Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, a Defense Department spokeswoman on issues related to Guantanamo.