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Judge halts trials of alleged 9/11 plotters

Video by Oliver FARRY , Angela YEOH , Sophie DAVIDSON , Sylviane BAHR

Latest update : 2009-01-21

A US military judge has suspended the trial of five Guantanamo detainees accused of planning the Sept. 11 attacks. The move gives President Barack Obama the time he requested to decide whether to shut down Guantanamo's war crimes tribunals.

Reuters - A U.S. military judge on Wednesday halted the trial of five prisoners accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks, giving President Barack Obama the time he sought to decide whether to scrap the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals.

 

Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp that was widely seen as a stain on the United States' human rights record and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge under the Bush administration.

 

Hours after taking office on Tuesday, Obama ordered prosecutors in the Guantanamo court to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases. He asked for time to review the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution.

 

The move freezes proceedings against 21 prisoners at least until late May but was viewed by defense lawyers as the death knell for the special tribunals established by the Bush administration at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in southeast Cuba.

 

Self-confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and three of his four co-defendants objected to the delay. They had said in previous hearings that they wanted to plead guilty to the mass murder charges that could result in their execution for the hijacked plane attacks in 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people.

 

But military prosecutors said it should be up to the president to decide whether to continue his predecessor's policies.

 

Another Guantanamo judge halted the case against young Canadian captive Omar Khadr, who was captured at age 15 and is accused of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan.

 

"The practical effect of today's ruling is to pronounce the military commissions process dead," said Khadr's military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, referring to the trials by their formal name.

 

Khadr, now 22, is the last citizen of a Western nation held at Guantanamo. His lawyers have argued that he was a child soldier conscripted by his late father, an al Qaeda financier, and that any prosecution should take place in the regular U.S. or Canadian courts.

 

Few trials took place

 

Human rights activists and military defense lawyers had urged Obama to halt the special tribunals and urged him to move the prosecutions into the regular U.S. courts for trial under long-established rules.

 

The Bush administration had said it planned to try 80 prisoners on war crimes charges, but only three cases have been completed.

 

The trials have moved in fits and spurts amid numerous legal challenges from defense lawyers who said the tribunals allowed hearsay evidence and coerced testimony and were subject to so much political interference that fairness was impossible.

 

About 245 foreign captives are still held at the detention center, which opened in January 2002 to house foreign terrorism suspects and has been a widely criticized part of the U.S. war on terrorism that Bush declared after the Sept. 11 attacks.

 

In Washington, the U.S. Justice Department asked for a two-week delay in the federal court case of three Guantanamo prisoners seeking their release. A hearing had been set for Jan. 21.

 

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton granted the request and ordered the government to file a status report by Feb. 4 saying how it intends to proceed. There are about 200 cases pending in the Washington federal court from Guantanamo detainees seeking their release.

 

 

Date created : 2009-01-21

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