Military judge sets USS Cole bombing trial date
By CAROL ROSENBERG | The Miami Herald | Published: August 26, 2013
MIAMI — The military judge in Guantanamo’s USS Cole bombing case has set a provisional trial date of Sept. 2, 2014, according to a document posted on the war court website Monday.
Army Col. James Pohl, the judge, set the date in an order that lays out scheduling milestones toward the death penalty tribunal of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 48, the once water-boarded Saudi captive accused of masterminding al-Qaida’s suicide bombing of the warship off the coast of Yemen in October 2000. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and dozens others were wounded.
The order notably instructs the government to release all discovery to defense teams by Sept. 20 of this year. It lays out a schedule for “purely legal pretrial issues and systemic challenges” by defense attorneys to challenge the integrity of the war court system that President George W. Bush created and President Barack Obama had reformed.
If the schedule holds, the al Nashiri case would be the first death penalty case by military commission heard at Guantanamo’s war court at Camp Justice. Pentagon prosecutors have sought a Sept. 22, 2014, trial date in the only other current capital case — against alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four accused co-conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
It is unclear whether either date will actually hold. Just last week, after defense attorneys in the 9/11 case complained about long-standing communications problems in their Pentagon email and computer system, Pohl said he would consider whether to abate those proceedings at the next hearing, Sept. 16.
Also, under Pohl’s USS Cole case timetable, the jury of military officers would be chosen starting June 30, 2014, at the war court, then disperse back to their bases around the world to await the actual trial.
In death penalty cases by military commissions at Guantanamo, a minimum of 12 members must be seated, and unanimous agreement is required to sentence the accused to death — in an execution system to be decided by the secretary of defense.
In a separate matter, a notation on the al Nashiri docket says that Navy Cmdr. Brian Mizer has been assigned to the case as a Pentagon defense counsel.
Mizer, a reservist, defended Osama bin Laden’s driver, a Yemeni named Salim Hamdan, during his war crimes trial in the summer of 2008. Although Hamdan was convicted of providing material support for terrorism, that conviction was later overturned on appeal.
Mizer has since served as a federal public defender and returns to military service for the al Nashiri case.
The next USS Cole case hearing is scheduled for Oct. 28.
Alleged al-Qaida bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is facing Guantanamo's first death-penalty trial. Prosecutors allege that al-Nashiri orchestrated the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors. Al-Nashiri is portrayed here in an artist rendering during his military commissions arraignment on Nov. 9, 2011 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.