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Guantanamo war court closed until next year

MIAMI - The Guantanamo war court is in recess for the rest of the year and won't get back to business until mid-January.

Hurricane Sandy forced closure of the court at a makeshift compound called Camp Justice. Now, according to a series of filings on the Defense Department's Military Commissions docket, scheduling conflicts mean the war court will remain dark until the week before President Barack Obama's second-term inauguration.

Army Col. James Pohl, the chief judge, set hearings for Jan. 15-17 in the capital case of Saudi-born Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of orchestrating al-Qaida's bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen that killed 17 American sailors. Then the judge will hold hearings Jan. 28-31 in the case of five men accused of conspiring in the 9/11 attack by training, funding and directing the hijackers.

The Pentagon holds 166 men as prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba, six of them currently facing war crimes charges that seek the death penalty.

Hurricane Sandy came ashore as a Category 2 storm in Cuba and caused what military officials called "nuisance damage" to the Pentagon's makeshift war court compound at Guantanamo.

Tarps and tents were torn up, doors were blown open at some buildings, and there was water seepage inside the $12 million Expeditionary Legal Complex, which the troops call Camp Justice. But the technology that allows the proceedings to be beamed to U.S. soil on a 40-second delay was undamaged, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a Guantanamo spokesman.

Most of the 45-square-mile base lost power during Hurricane Sandy. Even the 17.4-mile fence line that delineates the base from Cuban-controlled soil went dark while the base managed to keep the hospital lit. Base officials have yet to disclose the total tab of hurricane damage, and so far won't say what, if anything, went wrong at the fence line where Marines keep watch on Cuba's minefield - and whether it will require a fix in the future.

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