A military judge at Guantanamo on Thursday rejected a White House request to suspend a hearing for the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, creating an unexpected challenge for the administration as it reviews how America puts suspected terrorists on trial.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said his decision was difficult but necessary to protect “the public interest in a speedy trial.” The ruling came in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The bombing of the Navy destroyer in 2000 in Yemen, killed 17 US sailors.
It seemed to take the Pentagon and White House by surprise. “We just learned of the ruling ... and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in the case,” said White Press secretary Robert Gibbs, adding that he doubted the decision would hamper the administration’s ability to decide how to move forward from Guantanamo.
The Department of Defence is reviewing Pohl’s ruling, said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
Geoff Morrell, another Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that there were “no ifs, ands or buts” about adhering to the president’s executive order. “The bottom line is, we all work for the president of the US in this chain of command, and he has signed an executive order which has made clear that until these reviews are done all of this is on hiatus,” Morrell said. President Barack Obama has ordered the detention center in Cuba to be closed within a year. The administration asked last week for a 120-day suspension in proceedings against some 20 detainees as it considers whether to continue trying alleged terrorists in the military commissions, revamp them or try suspects in other courts.