Vanishing files delay Guantanamo hearings in 9/11 case

By Jane Sutton Reuters

Guantanamo war crimes prosecutions of five prisoners charged with plotting the September 11 hijacked planes attacks will be delayed by two months because of lost files caused by Pentagon computer problems, U.S. military officials said on Wednesday.

A weeklong pretrial hearing had been set to begin on Monday in the death penalty case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the attacks, and four alleged co-conspirators.

The judge overseeing the case postponed the hearing until June 17 at the request of defense lawyers who said three to four weeks’ worth of their confidential work files had disappeared from Pentagon computer systems.

Prosecutors opposed the delay, but the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, said a postponement was “in the interest of justice” under the circumstances.

A near-catastrophic server failure caused both defense lawyers and prosecutors to lose documents, said Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman.

Backup servers failed and the problem was further complicated because lawyers use one secure computer system in their Washington-area offices and another in their offices at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, he said.

The data disappeared as technicians tried to set up a means of automatically saving new documents and updates on both systems.

Pohl had already delayed pretrial hearings in another Guantanamo case for the same reason. Hearings had been scheduled this week in the case against Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is charged with masterminding a bomb attack that killed 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole in 2000, but were postponed to June 11.

Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, an attorney who represents Saudi defendant Mustafa al Hawsawi in the 9/11 case, said some files had been restored but that 7 gigabytes of data – about three to four weeks worth of work – had been irretrievably lost since mid-February.

“None of the problems have been fixed,” Ruiz said. “It creates big hurdles.”

He said the lawyers had older versions of some documents but that more recent updates had disappeared. “We can’t really tell if we have the accurate one until we go through it all,” he said.

(This story was refiled to correct Pentagon spokesman’s rank in the fifth paragraph)

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