By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — An Army judge abruptly recessed the first military commission session of the year Monday because the alleged architect of al-Qaida’s 2000 USS Cole bombing may want to fire his lawyer.
One-time waterboarded Saudi prisoner Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 49, is scheduled to face trial in September. The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, had scheduled eight days of hearings to address defense and prosecution representation questions, efforts by al-Nashiri’s lawyers to narrow the case — as well as postponing the trial until at least February 2015.
But al-Nashiri’s death-penalty defender, Rick Kammen, a civilian, told the judge moments into the hearing that the prisoner wanted to fire him. He asked for two days to work with the accused on preserving the relationship. Pohl agreed.
He recessed until Wednesday and said, if the hearings go forward, he’ll hold Saturday and Sunday sessions to make up time.
Al-Nashiri, who could be executed if convicted as the mastermind of the suicide bombing of the $1 billion warship off Yemen in October 2000, sat silently in the courtroom for the 10-minute hearing.
The case prosecutor, Navy Commander Andrea Lockhart, asked the judge to question al-Nashiri directly on the issue. Pohl declined.
There was no immediate word from family members of the 17 American service members who died in the attack. They were brought to the base on Sunday to watch the proceedings.
Parents of some of the slain sailors make the pilgrimage to this remote base in southeast Cuba for each hearing, as guests of the prosecution, and have expressed anger at what they see as defense stalling tactics.
Defense lawyers say the death penalty and secret nature of the proceedings have prolonged this phase. They also cite al-Nashiri’s waterboarding and other “torture” in U.S. custody, which has left him suffering post traumatic stress disorder.
Under military commissions rules, an accused terrorist facing a possible death penalty must have a learned defense counsel on his team. Only Kammen currently qualifies in that role although al-Nashiri also had three military defense lawyers at his table for Monday’s hearing.
Two were new to the team: Navy Commander Brian Mizer, who had previously defended Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, at a military commissions trial, and Army Major Tom Hurley, who had previously been part of Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning’s court-martial defense team.
Until Monday, the Saudi prisoner appeared to have a working relationship with Kammen, a seasoned death-penalty defense lawyer from Indianapolis. The two met in 2008, and al-Nashiri accepted him to his team. Navy Commander Stephen Reyes, Nashiri’s first Pentagon-approved military lawyer, brought Kammen to the team and recently left for studies at Harvard.
Another civilian lawyer who has represented al-Nashiri since Mary 2008, Nancy Hollander of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was at the court Monday as well to protest to the judge that the prison had not let her see the man for a year. But Pohl recessed before that issue was heard.
AFP Photo/Chantal Valery