By Jim Kouri
The top prosecutor of the U.S.S. Cole bombing suspect, who is being held in a detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, slammed defense attorneys for their characterization of the legal proceedings on the military base as being unconstitutional, according to a Pentagon spokesman on Saturday.
Defense lawyers for alleged al-Qaeda member Abd al-Rahim Hussein Mohammed Abdu al-Nashiri claimed that their client is being tried without the protections of the U.S. Constitution since the trial will be conducted by the military rather than the U.S. Department of Justice.
Army Brigadier General Mark Martins told a news conference at the Gitmo base that the U.S. military commissions will “provide the protections of the U.S. Constitution and will follow the procedures of U.S. federal courts and military courts martials,” according to press statement by Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service.
“All officials in the federal government have an obligation within their areas of responsibility to help fulfill these requirements, which are among the fundamental guarantees of fairness and justice demanded by our values,” said Gen. Martins.
Martins spoke at the conclusion of a hearing on motions made for the trial of alleged Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim Hussein Mohammed Abdu al-Nashiri. The Cole attack killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 in Aden, Yemen in October 2000. Al-Nashiri is charged with capital crimes and could be put to death if found guilty, Garamone noted.
But defense motions questioned the prosecution on constitutional grounds, including a claim that the charges violate the equal protection clause, that the suspect was being charged under an ex post facto law, and that it was a bill of attainder.
But the trial judge, U.S. Army Colonel James Pohl, denied all of the defense motions. In addition, he denied a request for all documents given to the defense team be translated into Arabic. There are more than 70,000 pages to date, according to Garamone.
“I must applaud Col. Pohl’s rulings especially the one on translating all of the documents involved in the case. This is your typical defense strategy of burying your opponent in paperwork prior to the trial,” said attorney and political consultant Mike Baker.
Col. Pohl granted more time for the defense to present him with a theory of the case, their request for a Yemeni investigator, letters asking for Yemeni evidence and a motion asking for the amount of money and resources the government has expended on this prosecution, according to Gen. Martins.
“Contrary to dark suggestions of some whose minds appear already made up to oppose military commissions regardless of how they are conducted, these protections are implemented by officers, I submit, are worthy of the public trust,” Martins said.
During the news conference, Martins listed the rights Al-Nashiri possesses. For example, the fact that Al-Nashiri is innocent until proven guilty. The U.S. government has provided more than $100,000 to fund defense requests, which include a full time investigator, a translator and four lawyers – two military and two civilian.
The al-Nashiri prosecution is complicated, the general said. It is further complicated because the crime was 12 years ago, and in another country. Federal trials have stretched years in similar situations, he said.
“Those who state or imply that what you are seeing here would not happen in the federal systems are simply wrong,” the general said.
The trials at Guantanamo, while few, are important to the United States and to justice, and are worth every penny invested in them, he said.