The military judge in Guantánamo’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 waterboarded 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 Nashiri case would be the first death-penalty case by military commission heard at Guantánamo’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 Sheik 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 away the actual trial.
In death penalty cases by military commissions at Guantánamo, 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 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 terror, that conviction was later overturned on appeal.
Mizer has since then served as a federal public defender and returns to military service for the Nashiri case.
The next USS Cole case hearing is scheduled for Oct. 28.