Wednesday, September 23, 2009
By Jane Sutton
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The Guantanamo war crimes court has become "a headless chicken" that still operates under the old rules even as the Obama administration issues new ones, the lawyer for an accused Saudi boat-bomb plotter said on Wednesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantanamo detention camp for terrorism suspects by January 22, and his administration has said it will decide by November 16 whether to move the 10 pending prosecutions into the regular U.S. courts or try them in revised tribunals.
The Obama administration also is pushing legislation in Congress that would stop the military tribunals from using evidence obtained through brutality.
But a military judge in Guantanamo refused on Wednesday to drop the charges against Saudi prisoner Ahmed al Darbi, a case that defense lawyer Ramzi Kassem said was built on confessions obtained through torture.
"Either the Obama administration is duplicitously saying one thing to the public and the media and doing another here or, you know, Guantanamo and the military commissions are like a headless chicken that just keeps on moving after it's been decapitated," Kassem told journalists after the hearing.
The chief prosecutor, Navy Captain John Murphy, called the comparison unfair and said, "Our mission is to operate under the current law."
Torture-derived evidence is banned but the current law permits the use of coerced statements in some cases. The judge, Army Colonel Jim Pohl, scheduled a January hearing to decide whether 119 statements al Darbi gave interrogators can be used at his trial -- if his trial goes forward.
Obama first asked the military to freeze the Guantanamo trials in January, then his administration sought further delays through mid-November to decide whether and how to continue with the prosecutions.
Despite the freeze, military judges have convened three tribunal sessions to try to resolve pretrial motions, and more are planned in October. They say that does not violate Obama's order since they are not holding trials or filing new charges.
DEFENSE ALLEGES TORTURE
Al Darbi, 34, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, and he faces life in prison if convicted.
The charges allege he bought a boat and global positioning devices and shopped for crewmen as part of an unrealized plot to ram an explosives-laden boat into an unidentified ship in the Strait of Hormuz. He is also accused of teaching at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and meeting Osama bin Laden there.
Al Darbi has said his boat was used only to ferry sheep across the strait. The defense says the case rests on confessions al Darbi gave after U.S. troops strung him up by his arms, beat him, blasted loud music at him, deprived him of sleep and threatened to rape him while he was held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Prosecutor Frank Rangoussis said there is ample evidence beyond al Darbi's own words, including corroborating witnesses, but he did not elaborate.
Al Darbi was captured in Azerbaijan in 2002 and has been held at Guantanamo since 2003.
"They've had seven years to assess the evidence against Mr. al Darbi," said Kassem, the defense lawyer. "They should either fish or cut bait."
The judge refused his request to drop the charges, and granted a prosecution request to freeze the case until after the November 16 decision by the administration.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Cynthia Osterman)
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