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With no Guantanamo replacement in sight, detainees moving toward trial

Final pretrial hearings for three alleged “enemy combatants” are scheduled to begin next week at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, marking the last steps before the first full trial of the U.S. military commissions under President Barack Obama begins in August. 

Almost immediately after taking office, Obama declared the detention center at Guantanamo would be closed in one year. That was a year and a half ago, and there is no end in sight. Congress blocked the federal government from buying an Illinois prison the White House wanted to use. This month, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid a surprise visit to the brig at Charleston, S.C., one of the potential sites to receive some – not all – of the prisoners. 

With few good options, the trials are moving forward right there at GTMO.

Next week, the government will decide if Noor Uthman Muhammed can retain a military lawyer used previously as his defense counsel. Muhammed was captured in March 2002 and is charged with being a deputy at a terrorist training camp, committing murder, and other terrorist type shenanigans. One of the prosecutors against him quit in 2008 in protest of the system, the charges were dropped but later they were renewed and case is moving forward.

The week of July 4, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi is scheduled to hear arguements over admissibility of evidence. But al-Qosi may have struck a deal already in which he would plead guilty and give the commission its first conviction.  Reporters who were supposed to travel on a DoD plane to Guantanamo on Monday – including this reporter – received abrupt word last Wednesday that al-Qosi’s hearing was continued.

The following week, 23-year old Omar Khadr returns to court for a final pretrial hearing to determine the admissibility of medical evidence, including mental evaluations of his health while enduring interrogations in detention during his first two years. Khadr, a Canadian national, is probably more known for being captured at age 15 than he is of being accused of tossing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier. (See his interrogation video here.)

Khadr’s case drew unexpected attention recently when four journalists were banned from the courtroom for life after printing the name of an interrogator in the case, violating the Pentagon's courtroom instructions. The journalists said that particular interrogator’s name and role in the case long had been public record, despite the rule not to identify him. Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman and author of the GTMO rules of the road for journalists, was hammered by news agencies demanding the Defense Department reinstate the journalists. Last Monday, after a judge ruled the Pentagon was OK in its actions, Whitman said he would accept individual letters requesting reinstatement.

The banned included Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, who has perhaps more time in GTMO than any journalist. Rosenberg told me she and her lawyers submitted a letter to Whitman on Tuesday last week but have received no response.

The military commission for Omar Khadr is scheduled to begin August 10.

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