Guantánamo judge pushes USS Cole trial to Dec. 4

By Carol Rosenberg The Miami Herald

A military judge has pushed to Dec. 4 the trial date of a Saudi man accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors, according to military sources.

If that timetable holds, it will be the first death-penalty prosecution at Guantánamo. It will also be the first at the war court that President George W. Bush created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and President Barack Obama reformed.

Army Col. James L. Pohl, the trial judge, set Oct. 6 for the start of jury selection, according to the sources, who’ve seen a sealed order dated Feb. 26 on the Pentagon’s military commissions website.

Abd al Rahm al Nashiri, 49, is charged with terrorism, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war and other war crimes. Suicide bombers blew up a bomb-laden skiff alongside the warship during a refueling mission off Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 12, 2000.

He was captured two years later and held by CIA agents who, according to federal investigations, waterboarded him and interrogated him with other now forbidden techniques, including while hooded and nude at the point of a revving power drill. He got to Guantánamo in 2006 but was not formally charged until 2011 — after the Obama administration revamped the war court.

Pohl had initially set the trial date at September 2. Defense lawyers had requested a 2015 date, which the judge rejected.

Because the CIA held Nashiri in its secret prison network, his is a national-security trial that so far has had three secret pretrial hearings and shielding 14 percent of pretrial case evidence, called discovery, from the accused bomber.

Under the present timetable, a senior Pentagon official would in October send a pool of U.S. military officers — men and women with Top Secret security clearances serving at different posts across the globe — to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. Once chosen for the jury, they would be returned to duty until the actual trial began.

Congress’ military commissions law expects a death penalty panel to number 12 or more military officers but allows for as few as nine U.S. military officers to sit in judgment “because of physical conditions or military exigencies” — if a senior Pentagon official justifies it in writing.

ABOUT THE USS COLE

The 8,300-ton warship is based in Norfolk, Va. It was commissioned, a formal ceremony, at Port Everglades in 1996.

The ship is named for Marine Sgt. Darrell S. Cole, a bugler turned machine-gunner, who was killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

It was on a refueling stop in October 2000 when two al Qaida suicide bombers drove a bomb-laden boat into the side, killing themselves and ultimately claiming the lives of 17 Americans. They were:

Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter, 21, of Mechanicsville, Va.

Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer Richard Costelow, 35, of Morrisville, Pa.

Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis, 19, of Woodleaf, N.C.

Information Systems Technician Timothy Lee Gauna, 21, of Rice, Texas

Signalman Seaman Cherone Louis Gunn, 22, of Rex, Ga.

Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels, 19, of Norfolk, Va.

Engineman 2nd Class Marc Ian Nieto, 24, of Fond du Lac, Wis.

Electronics Warfare Technician 2nd Class Ronald Scott Owens, 24, of Vero Beach.

Seaman Lakiba Nicole Palmer, 22, of San Diego.

Engineman Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett, 19, of Churchville, Md.

Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, 19, of Keedysville, Md.

Electronics Warfare Technician 1st Class Kevin Shawn Rux, 30, of Portland, N.D.

Mess Management Specialist 3rd Class Ronchester Manangan Santiago, 22, of Kingsville, Texas.

Operations Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Lamont Saunders, 32, of Ringgold, Va.

Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis Jr., 26, of Rockport, Texas.

Ensign Andrew Triplett, 31, of Macon, Miss.

Seaman Craig Bryan Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, Md.

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