First hearing since Obama took office set for Guantanamo

Miami HeraldMay 6, 2009 

The chief judge for the Pentagon's military commissions has scheduled the next war court hearing at Guantanamo Bay for late May, according to a court document.

The May 27 hearing for Ahmed Darbi, a Saudi captive, would be the first since government lawyers sought, and won, a 120-day freeze of the hearings staged at an abandoned airstrip called Camp Justice. The Guantanamo judges suspended the proceedings on a request from the Obama administration to give the new administration time to study each of the captive's cases.

The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, wrote in the document dated April 27 that he was ''not trying to influence'' the ongoing review of detainee operations by the Obama administration.

But Pohl said he had set the date to ``ensure the orderly processing of the currently pending charges.''

The timing is significant because news organizations wrote over the weekend that the Obama administration is considering reviving with changes the Bush era military commissions for trying some captives at the remote base in southeast Cuba.

Barack Obama said during the campaign that he preferred federal prosecutions and criticized the commission system created in collaboration with the Republican Congress as ``flawed.''

Darbi, 34, is accused of plotting a never-realized attack on an unnamed ship in the Strait of Hormuz. He also allegedly met Osama bin Laden and trained at an al Qaeda camp. Conviction as an al Qaeda conspirator could bring life imprisonment.

He has been identified as the brother-in-law of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Defense lawyers argue that the father of two, whose family is in Yemen, was tortured by sadistic guards during his detention at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. They claim that the government case is built on up to 119 self-incriminating statements, which would not be admissible in a civilian court.

On the agenda for the hearing, according to Pohl's memo, is a defense attorney's request to enter two award-winning documentary films into the record for a military jury if the case goes to trial. They are called Torturing Democracy and Taxi to the Dark Side.

At Darbi's last hearing, on Dec. 15, he waved a picture of Obama at the war court and urged the president-elect to make good on his promise to close the prison camps there.

''I hope this location will be closed as he promised,'' said Darbi, waving a copy of an American Civil Liberties Union poster with a photo of a pensive Obama and his campaign's closure pledge on it. ``He will earn back the legitimacy the United States has lost as a world leader.''

Pohl, who has presided at Army courts martial of several guards in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, became chief judge for military commissions on Dec. 15.

Separately, military sources told The Miami Herald that a Justice Department prosecutor, John Murphy, was being mobilized next month into his Navy Reserves captain's post to serve as chief prosecutor for the Guantánamo war court.

Murphy had served as a civilian prosecutor on the team for this summer's war crimes trial of bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan.

A jury convicted the driver last summer of supporting terror, but not conspiring in the 9/11 attacks, and sentenced him to time served plus less than six months.

Hamdan returned to his native Yemen last year.

Read the full story at miamiehrald.com

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