A military judge in the war crimes trial of a Guantanamo prisoner charged in the attack on the USS Cole has denied a defense request to question Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as a witness in the case.
The ruling by Army Col. James Pohl is subject to a Pentagon security review and has not been released. But the military defense lawyer who submitted the motion to depose Saleh, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, said Wednesday that it had been denied.
Reyes is the Pentagon-appointed lawyer for Guantanamo prisoner Abd al-Nashiri, who is charged before a tribunal at the U.S. base in Cuba with war crimes for allegedly setting up the 2002 bombing of the USS Cole, an attack that killed 17 sailors.
Pohl issued the ruling Tuesday and did not give a rationale, stating only that he would explain his decision in a later ruling, Reyes said. Earlier, the State Department said that Saleh, who is in New York for medical treatment, could not be questioned because he has diplomatic immunity.
Reyes had argued that diplomatic immunity did not apply because he wanted to question Saleh as a defense witness, not a suspect, to collect information on the Yemeni government's investigation into the bombing of the Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.
"We believe that Saleh's testimony is necessary for this case and that it prejudices our ability to defend our client in a capital case," Reyes said.
He said he was looking into whether he could appeal but he would have to move fast. Saleh, who has said he intends to be back in Yemen in time for Feb. 21 elections, is expected to leave the U.S. within days.
Saleh, who was president at the time of the Cole attack, arrived in the U.S. on Jan. 28 for treatment of burns suffered in an assassination attempt in June.