By Lacey Johnson
FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) - A U.S. military judge on Wednesday ordered a halt to pre-trial hearings for five Guantanamo Bay inmates accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks until an order requiring judges to relocate to the naval base in Cuba is rescinded.
Judge Army Colonel James Pohl's suspension of hearings for the 2001 attacks was announced by a fellow military court judge overseeing a pre-trial hearing for Saudi Guantanamo prisoner Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. He is charged with orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the U.S. warship Cole at Aden, Yemen, in which 17 sailors died.
The Jan. 7 order to relocate was signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work. It ordered military judges to be removed from their other duties and to move to Guantanamo Bay to speed up the years-long proceedings.
Retired Marine Corps Major General Vaughn Ary, who oversees the war court and proposed the relocation order, has been accused by defense lawyers of exercising “unlawful influence” to rush the cases forward.
The announcement by Judge Air Force Colonel Vance Spath prompted Nashiri's defense team temporarily to suspend their questioning of Ary. He testified via streaming video about his reasoning for moving the military judges to Cuba.
Relocating the judges “was your brainchild, correct?” asked defense attorney Richard Kammen before the break.
“Yes. That was my recommendation,” Ary said. “I believe that I have a duty to make recommendations to the deputy secretary of defense.”
“Are you familiar with the phrase, undue command influence is the mortal enemy of military justice?” asked Kammen.
“Yes,” said Ary.
After a recess, Spath said he was going ahead with the pre-trial hearing in the death penalty case.
"His (Pohl’s) opinion in that case has no reflection on what we’re going to do in this case,” he said.
Pohl is overseeing the capital case of five men charged with the 2001 attacks on the United States, which killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
In a memo obtained by the Miami Herald, Ary said the tribunals he oversaw met for just 34 days in 2014, at a cost of $78 million. At that rate, the expense of proceedings was running $7,647 a minute, he wrote.
The hearing was monitored via closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, outside Washington.