U.S.S. Cole Case Judge Sets Goal of 2025 Trial

U.S.S. Cole Case Judge Sets Goal of 2025 Trial

It was a long wait for the survivors of the attack and the relatives of the sailors who were killed. A Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, has been in US custody since 2002 and was first charged in 2011. This makes it the longest-running capital case at Guantanamo Bay.

Paul Abney, a senior sailor on the ship, called the judge’s announcement “pleasant words to hear.” He was in court on Monday for the hearings and has traveled to Guantánamo about 10 times since 2012 to attend the legal arguments.

“Even if it doesn’t happen next year, the fact that he’s willing to set a target date and make it a target to shoot for, I think is inspiring,” said Mr. Abney, a retired Navy commander .

Colonel Fitzgerald has 14 weeks of hearings left on the calendar for 2024. Pre-trial issues that remain to be resolved include the admissibility of some evidence, proposed witnesses, whether Mr. Nashiri can be tried before a military commission, how a panel of military officers should be constituted, and whether Mr. Nashiri is entitled to administrative credit in this case would have convicted, but not sentenced to death.

Even before the trial began, the judge issued an order setting deadlines for both sides to prepare for the trial. The schedule requires Mr. Nashiri’s lawyers to provide prosecutors by Jan. 9 with a list of witnesses they want to call to testify at the trial.

The referee announced the goal in his first hour on the bench. But he did not mention the government’s efforts to get an appeals panel to overturn a decision by his predecessor.

Colonel Acosta excluded confessions the defendant made to federal agents at Guantánamo Bay after years of secret detention by the CIA because they were tainted by torture. Mr. Nashiri was subjected to waterboarding, rectal abuse and prolonged sleep deprivation. Prosecutors have requested a military tribunal review to restore the confessions.

Regardless of how the panel decides, defense or prosecution lawyers are expected to take the issue to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a process that could drag on for much of this year.

In February 2020, Colonel Acosta set deadlines for a February 2022 trial date for Mr. Nashiri. But the next month, the coronavirus pandemic forced the Guantánamo facility to close for about 500 days. Colonel Acosta retired last year without setting a trial date.

Col. Fitzgerald, who was on the bench Monday, said he had “an unorthodox military career.” After high school, he joined the Army, served as a psychiatrist from 1986 to 1990, then worked on Army medevac missions until 1999, all in the United States.

He left the service to attend college, taught high school, and then chose law. He was in his second year of law school when the Cole was bombed and in his senior year during the September 11, 2001 attacks. He returned to the Army as a lawyer in 2003 and was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on in 2008 sent to the Guantánamo Bay military prison.

At Guantanamo, he served for 90 days on a legal team created to respond to any new court filings by detainees in light of a Supreme Court ruling, Boumediene v. Bush to respond that gave detainees meaningful review of their incarceration in federal courts. Colonel Fitzgerald called it “the mission that never happened” because “no notices of complaint were filed on our watch.”

During his stay there, Colonel Fitzgerald said he took the initiative to provide advice to the commander of a military police unit that did not have a resident staff attorney and took tours of the prison, including the high-quality inmate facility where Mr. Nashiri was being held.

Colonel Fitzgerald is the only military commission judge known to have seen the detention facilities at Guantanamo. But he said he avoided eye contact with the inmates and had no memory of who was being held there.

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2024-04-01 23:06:31