The Pentagon on Wednesday launched a new website Wednesday aimed at providing up-to-date information about military trials of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo, then used it to announce the first death penalty war crimes prosecution of the Obama administration.
Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 46, a former Saudi millionaire, is accused of masterminding al Qaida's suicide bombing of a U.S. Navy warship in a Yemeni port a decade ago. His trial will be the first full military commission of the Obama era at a time when the White House is still committed to closing the prison camps. Wednesday, the Pentagon held 171 captives at its base in southeast Cuba, just four of them convicted war criminals.
News organizations have complained for years that the operation of the war court was often shrouded in secrecy and asked the Pentagon last year to begin posting information about military commission filings on the Internet as part of a push for better access to Guantánamo proceedings. That pushed was prompted by the banning of four reporters from military commissions for allegedly violating Pentagon rules. The Pentagon lifted the bans and rewrote its rules after news organizations complained that the bannings were illegal.
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, who oversees the war court, chose to use the new website to announce the Nashiri charges.
But it was unclear whether the website would prove to be as complete as news reporters had hoped. The Nashiri page, however, included only prosecution documents against Nashiri, the alleged al Qaeda chief of Arabian Sea operations. Conspicuously missing was a July 15 filing by Nashiris Pentagon defenders claiming that the case was too tainted by delay and CIA torture to go forward.
Nashiri is charged with directing the two suicide bombers who drove a bomb-laden skiff into the USS Cole in October 2000, killing 17 American sailors and crippling the $1.1 billion warship.
Its long overdue from my standpoint, said John Clodfelter of Mechanicsville, Va., whose 21-year-old sailor son Kenneth was killed instantly in the ships bulkhead. Its just been unreal. Kenneth ... was tore up so horrifically.
Nashiri is defended by U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes who said the latest step signaled that it was now time to see how transparent these trials will be.
Item No. 1: What happened to my client in CIA custody?
Some of that has already come out in congressional investigations and documents surfaced through the Freedom of Information Act: While at a secret CIA prison, an agent revved a power drill near the head of a naked, hooded Nashiri, who was also subjected to water boarding, a technique that Attorney General Eric Holder has called torture.
Pentagon lawyers and contractors have spent the summer readying the war court former President George W. Bush created and Barack Obama criticized as a senator then reformed as president. During the week of Sept. 11, MacDonald inspected Guantánamos crude tent city and maximum-security court, called Camp Justice.
The Nashiri case will be widely watched both within Navy circles and beyond as a test case of the new court. Pentagon lawyers are still preparing the for capital trial of five former CIA captives accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 mass murder, chief among them confessed mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.