GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Lawyers haggled intensely over funds and resources Thursday to prepare for the capital murder trial of the man accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing, with the military judge ordering the government to try to tally the cost of its decade-plus investigation into al Qaida’s attack on the warship off Yemen.
Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed in the Oct. 12, 2000 suicide bombing, and former CIA prisoner Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 47, is charged as the architect. He could face execution if he is convicted.
Throughout the day, the Saudi’s Pentagon-paid defense team complained bitterly about resources and argued in a series of motions to Army Col. James Pohl, the judge, for more time and more money to prepare for the trial that is scheduled to start in November.
Pohl overruled a senior Defense Department official and agreed to let them hire a Yemeni investigator for three months at $700 a day but refused a request for a team of translators to turn potential case evidence documents, called discovery, into Nashiri’s native Arabic.
Defense lawyers estimate they’ll get up to 150,000 pages of discovery and say Nashiri doesn’t have the ability to read them in English. Prosecutors told the judge that the Pentagon is not obliged to pay for those translations and that Nashiri had already received an Arabic version of the 1,800-page referral package laying out the case to a senior Pentagon official, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald.
Pohl agreed with Navy Cmdr. Andrea Lockhart’s argument that his legal team could use its case translator to summarize and explain the case.
“It seems to be the attitude of the military that we can kill him, and do it cheaply,” Nashiri’s lead civilian defense lawyer, Richard Kammen, told reporters afterward. “And that seems to be transparently unfair.”
Over Lockhart’s objections, the judge also ordered the prosecution to query different government agencies for line items that spell out the cost of the investigation of the USS Cole attack. The U.S. engaged in an international manhunt for those behind the bombing that crippled the $1 billion destroyer, with agents from the FBI, Naval Criminal Intelligence Service and CIA, and prosecutors from New York, the Justice Department and Pentagon.
Defense attorneys asked for the total tab to use in an argument to spare his life, in case Nashiri is convicted. The judge said the defense was entitled to a sum — if one could be tallied — and the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said after court “some number can be developed and certainly we’ll do that.”
Kammen, a veteran of civilian death penalty cases, protested bitterly throughout the day, asserting that federal funding for such cases is less parsimonious.
Martins disputed that. “Substantial resources have been provided to the defense to assist with its preparation of trial,” said Martins, estimating that more than $100,000 has been approved already for experts, investigators and consultants. That sum doesn’t include the cost of a full-time translator and four lawyers, three working for the Pentagon plus Kammen.
“Resources will remain as they should, a continuing imperative,” Martins added.
Military Commissions have no budget, the general said, and rely on “SWAGs,” military-speak for Sophisticated Wild-Assed Guess, and get their money in allocations from Congress and the Department of Defense.
Trial preparations for Nashiri’s case will continue. The next scheduled proceedings are set for July 15.
Two former USS Cole crew members who were on board at the time of the attack, and the fathers of two sailors who died that day, were on hand for the proceedings and discussion afterward with the media about costs.
Money should be no obstacle to attaining justice, said retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Ron Francis, whose 19-year-old sailor daughter Lakeina was killed in the attack.
“He’s fighting for his life,” he said. “We’re Americans. We seek justice — and the whole world’s looking at how we seek justice.”