American military prosecutors Monday asked a senior official to approve
charges against a Guantanamo detainee for his alleged role in the
attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. That and a variety of other
terrorism charges against the man could carry the death penalty. VOA's
Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The prosecutors have requested the charges against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent, who is among 14 men the U.S. government considers "high value detainees." The men were held by the Central Intelligence Agency in secret prisons before being transferred to the military-run detention center on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba two years ago.
The Pentagon says al-Nashiri worked with al-Qaida leader Osama Bin-Laden to organize and carry out the attack on the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole, which killed 17 American sailors, and an attack on a French supertanker two years later, as well as a failed attempt to attack another U.S. warship. He is the first person to be charged in the Cole attack.
Under the military commissions process, a senior Defense Department official, Susan Crawford, must now decide whether to approve the charges, and whether to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty, as they have requested.
The case may be complicated by the fact that the CIA has admitted using abusive interrogation methods on al-Nashiri, including waterboarding, a partial drowning technique which the U.S. government has considered torture in the past. At a hearing on his status last year, Nashiri told a military judge he was tortured by U.S. interrogators, and only confessed to involvement in the Cole attack and other terrorist operations in order to get the torture to stop.
But the legal advisor to the military commissions, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, says the case may go forward in spite of questions about evidence obtained through waterboarding.
"You have to look at the evidence," said General Hartmann. "We will look at the evidence, all the evidence that is associated with the case. While there has been an admission that there was waterboarding, there may well be other evidence in the case. That's not necessarily the only form of evidence in the case. So it's inappropriate for us to judge one piece of evidence or the other. All the evidence will come in and it will be evaluated by the defense, by the prosecution and by the judge."
General Hartmann says Nashiri will now be provided with a military attorney to help plan his defense. If the charges are approved, he is entitled to a preliminary hearing before a military judge within 30 days, and to a trial before a jury of U.S. military officers within 120 days. He can appeal any verdict in the regular U.S. federal courts.
Nashiri is the 20th man to have charges recommended by the Guantanamo prosecutors. Several trials have already started, including one for five detainees accused of involvement in the September 11th attacks on the United States in 2001.