The alleged al-Qaida mastermind of the 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned Wednesday in a military courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Nashiri, dressed in a white prison uniform, appeared confident as he strolled into the court and waved to spectators.
He smiled as Army Colonel James Pohl, the military judge, spoke to him through an Arabic translator.
Nashiri was arraigned on charges including murder, terrorism and conspiracy in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The attack killed 17 sailors and wounded dozens more.
In the courtroom, families of the victims saw Nashiri for the first time.
John Clodfelter’s 21-year-old son Kenneth was killed in the blast. “Because I wanted to be able to face him, face to face, if nothing else to let him know that ‘Hey, you haven’t gotten away with it.’ As far as I am concerned, I'd just as soon see them give him the death penalty because I think the lives of 17 sailors are worth it,” Clodfelter said.
Nashiri was captured in 2002, interrogated in secret CIA prisons overseas, then transferred to the U.S. detention center at the Guantanamo Bay naval station.
His attorneys argue Nashiri should not be prosecuted because interrogators subjected him to mock executions and the near-drowning technique called waterboarding.
The judge turned down a defense motion to force prosecutors to say that, if Nashiri is acquitted, the government is not likely to release him. Instead, the defense says, Nashiri will likely remain at Guantanamo.
Richard Kammen is the lead defense counsel. “I can’t imagine in today’s political environment or next year’s political environment or the political environment in two or three years where, if he is acquitted, any president would authorize his release,”Kammen said.
Nashiri is the first detainee to face a military tribunal here since U.S. President Barack Obama ended a freeze on the proceedings earlier this year.
Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, says Wednesday’s arraignment proves the system is fair.
“I am confident the military commission that was convened here today to try the charges against Mr. al-Nashiri referred to it will answer the call with fairness and with justice,”Martins said.
The defense says Nashiri’s treatment while in custody will be an issue during this trial. The attorneys predict it will take several years for the case to be resolved.