GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The chief war court judge here yielded Wednesday to an Obama administration request and postponed until next year the terror trial of a Saudi Arabian captive who claims he was subjected to a string of abuses in U.S. captivity.
Judge James Pohl, an Army colonel, set Jan. 11 for a hearing to decide which of the interrogations of Ahmed al Darbi, 34, would be heard by a military jury.
Darbi's lawyer wants some 119 statements made by the captive excluded from any trial because, Darbi claims, U.S. forces got them through beatings, threats of rape, sleep and sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation. He was captured in Baku, Azerbaijan, and interrogated both at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo.
Army criminal investigators subsequently took a victim's statement from Darbi here, and charged a Bagram guard who was ultimately cleared at a court martial.
Pentagon prosecutors allege that Darbi plotted a never-realized 2001-2002 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, 2001, hijackers.
The Darbi case is one of six active prosecutions of 10 detainees at the military commissions set up by the Bush administration, notably the death penalty case against five alleged 9/11 conspirators.
The Obama administration has sought to freeze all of them, for a third time since taking office, while it decides whether to proceed, drop the charges or move their cases to federal court for civilian trials.
The White House is also seeking to revamp the war court to ban evidence obtained through coercion, something case prosecutor Frank Rangoussis said Wednesday would not derail a trial.
``The substance of the charges against Mr. al Darbi will not have changed'' under amendments to military commission law brought before Congress, Rangoussis said. ``The underlying evidentiary standards may change -- mostly to the benefit of the accused.''
Another issue looming over any future trial is an Obama administration recommendation to strip ``providing material support for terror'' from the category of crimes that can be prosecuted at a military commission.
Justice and Defense Department lawyers have said it is not a traditional law of war violation, and there is a risk that convictions could be overturned on appeal.
Defense lawyer Ramzi Kassem, a New York law professor, had urged the judge to dismiss the charges rather than delay, calling the military commissions ``a headless chicken that keeps on moving after it has been decapitated.''
Capt. John F. Murphy, the Pentagon's chief war crimes prosecutor, called the headless chicken comparison unfair. ``Our mission is to operate under the current law.''
Also Wednesday, the military attorneys for Afghan detainee Mohammed Kamin, held since 2003, asked the court to dismiss his case, which is built around a lone material support for terror charge.
The attorneys sought an Oct. 7 hearing with testimony from Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson on the government's ``position that material support is not a viable offense to becharged before a military commission because it is not a law of war offense.''
Kamin, 31, allegedly got al Qaeda training after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden -- and then deployed missiles and mines against coalition forces that never exploded. He was sent to Guantánamo as an enemy combatant in September 2004.
The Pentagon has sought delays from judges in the other four cases.
Up next: an Oct. 7 hearing on freezing the case of Canadian captive Omar Khadr for allegedly hurling a grenade that killed a soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002. Khadr, who was captured at 15, turned 23 this week behind the barbed wire of Guantánamo.