With Guantanamo war court in doubt, 9/11 case gets new judge

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The military has assigned an Army colonel to take over the upcoming war crimes trial of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a sign that the Pentagon is plunging ahead with plans for military commissions of alleged 9/11 co-conspirators.

Army Col. Stephen R. Henley replaces Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, who at an earlier 9/11 hearing revealed he was retiring from active-duty service in April. He will join a legal clinic at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as a civil servant.

Henley has been a military judge for 10 years and has a law degree from George Washington University. As an Army judge, he presided at the courts martial of Maryland soldiers accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Iraq. As a commissions judge he is the only officer so far to exclude a confession on grounds it was derived from torture.

The American Civil Liberties Union derided the timing of the assignment: a day after President-elect Barack Obama restated his vow to close the prison camps here in a post-election interview on CBS' 60 Minutes.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero called the timing ''highly suspect and disturbing'' and a bid "to sabotage President-elect Obama's plans by ramming through these cases . . . while the new administration is making plans to dismantle the military commission system.''

War court spokesman Joe DellaVedova said there was nothing sinister about the timing or the selection of Henley by Kohlmann to replace him.

''Retirements happen all the time in the military,'' said DellaVedova, a civilian who had been an Air Force public affairs major. He called the announcement, three weeks before the next 9/11 hearing at Guantánamo, "an effort to establish some continuity for the accused.''

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