Pentagon pulls order relocating military judges to Guantanamo

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 27, 2015 12:16 PM

By Ian Simpson

FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department has rescinded an order relocating military judges to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that was intended to speed up trials of al Qaeda suspects, one of the judges said on Friday.

Judge Air Force Colonel Vance Spath said from the bench during a hearing at the U.S. naval base that the Jan. 7 order signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work had been pulled.

Work's order stripped three military judges of other duties and ordered them to move to Guantanamo Bay indefinitely to quicken the years-long proceedings.

Spath said he had received an email saying that the order was rescinded.

The judge holding the capital trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and four alleged accomplices had suspended pretrial proceedings on Wednesday until the order was rescinded.

That judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, cited "unlawful command influence," or commanders interfering in the judicial process. The next Sept. 11 hearings are scheduled for April 20-24.

The order aimed at speeding up the trials was crafted by retired Marine Corps Major General Vaugh Ary, the overseer of the war court at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

Ary defended his recommendation on Wednesday and said he had not consulted with the military's senior legal officers, the judge advocates general, about the move. Prosecutors had backed Work's order.

The senior legal officers for the Army, Navy and Air Force, known as judge advocate generals, were scheduled to testify on Friday about the order.

Spath was presiding at a pretrial hearing for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 50, a Saudi charged with orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The attack killed 17 sailors.

Defense lawyers in the Cole and Sept. 11 cases have contended that moving the judges to the remote base is an attempt to rush justice and reduce pretrial hearings.

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.

The hearing was monitored via closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, outside Washington.

(Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Lambert)