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Army judge abruptly scraps 9/11 case hearing

By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: April 2, 2016

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The military judge in the Sept. 11 case abruptly canceled two weeks of pretrial hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that were scheduled to start on Tuesday after receiving a secret notice from a Justice Department attorney.

The judge’s order was not released.

Army Col. James. L. Pohl, the judge, issued the cancellation order Friday evening.

“The whole thing is really odd to me. I thought it was an April Fools’ joke,” said Chicago defense attorney Cheryl Bormann, who was already in Washington to travel to Guantanamo this weekend to represent alleged 9/11 plot deputy Walid bin Attash.

Neither the order nor a notation of its existence was published on the military commissions website Saturday morning.

But attorneys who saw the order said the judge cited a secret. filing Friday by a Justice Department investigator, U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez. The Pentagon’s chief war court prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, appointed the Special Review Team led by Campoamor-Sanchez two years ago to keep the judge up to date on any FBI investigations of defense team activity in the national security case.

The entire case — accusing Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — is cloaked in secrecy because the five men spent years in clandestine CIA custody before they were brought to Guantánamo in 2006.

The FBI investigation, among other challenges, has long impeded trial progress. Although the U.S. attorney declared as far back as June 2014 that the government wasn’t spying on them, defense attorneys have argued that the investigation itself violated the attorney-client privilege and have sought details about what the FBI was doing to help decide whether their activities have or could create a conflict of interest.

It is not known what Campoamor-Sanchez told Pohl because, according to attorneys who were provided notice of it, it was marked “ex-parte,” meaning only the judge could read it. Pohl issued his order at 5:11 p.m., apparently so hastily it included the wrong year, 2015.

The five alleged plotters of the 9/11 attacks were expected back at Guantanamo’s war court compound, on Tuesday for the first time since February.

The next case pretrial hearing is on the court calendar for May 30-June 3.

Defense attorney Walter Ruiz, defending alleged conspirator Mustafa al Hawsawi, said by email Saturday that he did not know the reason for the delay. He reminded that Hawsawi was seeking to have his case severed from the others to more swiftly move to trial and resolution of the Saudi captive’s charges.

At the Pentagon, war court spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross declined to release a copy of the judge’s order. By court rules, some U.S. intelligence agencies get up to 15 business days to scrub court documents, including judicial orders, before the public can review them.

“At this point, we must allow the order to speak for itself,” he said by email Saturday morning.

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©2016 Miami Herald

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