Guantánamo

Guantánamo judge formally restores five-man 9/11 trial

U.S. Army military judge Col. James L. Pohl, shown in this July 7, 2005 file photo at Fort Hood, Texas, is the chief of the Guantánamo military commissions judiciary.
U.S. Army military judge Col. James L. Pohl, shown in this July 7, 2005 file photo at Fort Hood, Texas, is the chief of the Guantánamo military commissions judiciary. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Guantánamo war court on Friday ended any lingering uncertainty over whether a military judge is willing to put all five alleged 9/11 plotters on trial together, releasing an order canceling an earlier decision to grant alleged plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh a separate trial.

The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, removed the Yemeni who allegedly helped run the Hamburg, Germany, cell of hijackers in a July 2, 2014 order. Pohl said at the time that too many issues specific to Bin al Shibh were slowing the trial of the others, led by alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Prosecutors protested, citing a hardship on the victims if the Pentagon were to stage more than one trial. So Pohl suspended the so-called severance.

Pretrial hearings resume Dec. 7-11 at Guantánamo.

Now, in his latest ruling, Pohl said there was no longer a question of whether Bin al Shibh was competent to stand trial. Nor was there a question of whether an FBI investigation of his team created a conflict of interest. Both issues were resolved at the last hearing in October.

One overarching issue does remain: Bin al Shibh complains that somebody at his top-secret Guantánamo prison, Camp 7, is causing vibrations and noises inside his cell at night in a system of sleep deprivation reminiscent of his four years in CIA prisons — something the prosecution dismisses. But the issue is no longer specific to the Yemeni. A defense attorney said at an October hearing that the alleged plot chief, Mohammed, had experienced the issue as well.

Monday, the five men accused of orchestrating the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field return to the war court for a week-long pretrial hearing session. Testimony is expected on another order by Pohl that prosecutors oppose: He’s forbidden female guards from handling the five defendants as they come and go from court and legal meetings, a religious accommodation, that has stirred outrage in Congress.

Pohl has not yet decided whether to lift that female guard restraining order. But in the latest order concluded Bin al Shibh was no longer slowing progress in the case so no longer needed his own trial to provide Mohammed and three other alleged conspirators “some modicum of timely justice.”

Expect the court to publish a corrected version: Pohl’s two-page order posted on a Pentagon web site Friday was dated Nov. 27 on the top but his last sentence declared the severance order canceled, “so ordered this 27th day of December, 2015.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

See our Miami Herald Sept. 11 trial guide: The accused, judge, court, lawyers, and the charges.

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