A new judge has been assigned to preside at Guantánamo’s stalled trial of a Saudi man accused of plotting al-Qaida’s suicide bombing off the USS Cole warship off Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Air Force Col. Shelly W. Schools replaced the retiring chief trial judge, Vance Spath, on Monday, according to a memo obtained by McClatchy.
Spath drew national attention in November for summarily convicting the chief defense lawyer, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, of contempt of court — and then ordering him to serve 21 days confinement in his trailer behind Guantánamo’s war court. Spath then quietly put in for retirement soon after a federal judge overturned Baker’s conviction.
Schools is a career Air Force lawyer who joined the service in 1997, the year she graduated from the University of Mississippi law school. It is unclear how soon she will appear on the military commissions bench.
At the request of war court prosecutors, a Pentagon panel, the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, is deciding a range of questions Spath raised after he indefinitely froze pretrial proceedings in the death-penalty case against alleged Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri — including the scope of the war court’s contempt authority as well as who has the power to release attorneys of record from ongoing proceedings.