Pentagon drops charges against 5 held at Guantanamo

The Bush administration's top official overseeing military commissions has dismissed war crimes charges against five men at Guantanamo, a military commissions spokesman said Tuesday.

The development followed the high-profile resignation of a case prosecutor, Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who had protested internally against going forward in the case of a sixth man, a young Afghan.

Among those who had charges dropped were Noor Uthman Muhammed, a Sudanese whose age is not known; Binyam Mohammed, 30, an Ethiopian-born former British resident; Sufiyan Barhoumi, 35, an Algerian; and Saudis Ghassan Sharbi, 33, and Jabran al Qahtani, 31.

Susan Crawford, an official who holds the title of Convening Authority for Military Commissions, signed the paperwork that canceled the charges on Monday.

Four of the five men were captured in a U.S.-Pakistani raid on Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002 at an alleged al Qaeda safe house -- at the same time as alleged arch-terrorist Abu Zubaydah.

The CIA separated Abu Zubaydah from the others and, director Gen. Michael Hayden has revealed, subjected him to harsh interrogation techniques authorized by President Bush, among them the use of waterboarding to break his will in secret overseas custody. He has never been charged.

No explanation was provided for why the charges were dismissed all at once. All five men had not been charged jointly as co-conspirators, and their cases combined constituted about one-fourth of the cases that had been publicly disclosed for prosecution and trial at Guantánamo.

Pretrial hearings are being held there this week in the case of Canadian Omar Khadr, 22, accused of the grenade killing of a Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002. He was 15 at the time.

A trial is also scheduled for next week in the case of Osama bin Laden's confessed media secretary -- Ali Hamza al Bahlul of Yemen. Bahlul has pledged a no-contest trial, decrying the U.S. authority to charge him with crimes he argues are illegitimate.

War court spokesman Joseph DellaVedova noted that the charges against the five men were dismissed ''without prejudice,'' meaning the Defense Department could at any time charge the men again with war crimes.

DellaVedova said the Pentagon's chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, "recently appointed new trial teams who will review all available material, coordinate with intelligence agencies and recommend appropriate courses of action in each case.''

Prosecutors had prepared the earlier cases against all five men during the tenure of Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, who emerged as a controversial figure and target for complaints during his year-plus role as legal advisor to the process.

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