Guantánamo prison commander punts to Pentagon on speedboat standoff with 9/11 judge

The prison commander whose new bay crossing fast boat policy prompted the Sept. 11 judge to suspend future pretrial hearings said Sunday that the Pentagon official running war court operations should sort out the issue.

Navy Rear Adm. Edward Cashman recently sparked the latest controversy to bedevil the military commissions by no longer providing a Coast Guard security boat to whisk the chief of the war court and his trial judiciary team across Guantánamo Bay.

Army Col. James L. Pohl, whose rank is inferior to prison commander Cashman, said the lack of a separate boat would risk “commingling” with reporters, families of 9/11 victims as well as lawyers who travel to court hearings on the same plane with him.

Pohl abated pretrial proceedings and canceled this month’s hearing, but has been deciding some legal issues on court filings without hearing arguments. He ordered war court case prosecutors to provide him with a status update on the transportation question by Tuesday.

The next pretrial hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21-25 in the case against five men accused of conspiring in the passenger airliner hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

Sept. 11 trial judge halts proceedings over Guantánamo Bay shuttle policy

Cashman took charge of the 1,500-member staff that runs prison operations at the detention center of 41 captives in April. His new policy canceled a many years long practice of using a Coast Guard fast boat from a port security unit to fetch the judge and his staff, as well as other dignitaries. Although the Navy base has its own port security unit, the Pentagon added a Coast Guard unit to the detention center staff to guard against terror attacks, too. None have ever been known to occur.

Sunday, Cashman said he was “unaware” of whether a separate boat had been arranged for Pohl. He called it a “validation” issue in the hands of Harvey Rishikof, a Pentagon official known as the Convening Authority for Military Commissions. Among his many duties, Rishikof decides whether a death-penalty case can go forward, how much expert funding defense attorneys can receive and whether to approve a plea bargain.

“I think the responsibility for reviewing, validating, establishing, those requirements and eventually requirements for housing for future jury pools, for logistics support, for facilities — all of those requirements to support the execution of commissions is the role of the Convening Authority,” Cashman said.

Cashman said if, as prison commander, he was tasked to handle certain “requirements” he might ask higher headquarters at the Pentagon’s U.S. Southern Command for additional forces or finances to get it done.

This week, another war court judge is on this base for a mostly closed pretrial hearing in the capital case of the Saudi man accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors off Aden, Yemen, in October 2000.

For that judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, Rishikof’s office paid the base $300 to provide a special utility boat to shuttle Spath and his staff from Sunday’s flight to Camp Justice for Monday’s hearing. The rest of the passengers who arrived on a chartered aircraft from Andrews Air Force Base, estimated in a 2012 court filing to cost $90,000 one-way, rode a large ferry boat that brought their luggage and some vehicles from the airstrip.

But, based on Cashman’s remarks, that was a one-time “validation” of the need to provide a judge with a separate shuttle while more senior officials sort out the issue.

RELATED: A $300 boat ride may resolve dispute, restart Guantánamo hearings

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg