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Guantanamo Judge Unfreezes Sept. 11 Trial

In this May 13, 2009 file photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
In this May 13, 2009 file photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, the sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- The Sept. 11 trial judge lifted his month-old abatement of the case on Wednesday, apparently clearing the way for resumption of hearings later this month.

Two attorneys who have seen the order by Army Col. James Pohl said he appeared satisfied with a solution to a standoff with the prison commander over the need for separate cross-bay shuttle service: The Pentagon is paying the Navy base $300 each way to bring the judge and his team across Guantanamo Bay in a separate utility boat, meaning the trial judiciary won't be required to "commingle" with 9/11 victims' families, prosecutors, defense lawyers, reporters and other people after they've traveled on the same plane from Andrews Air Force Base.

The Aug. 21-25 hearing had been in doubt after Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, commander of the prison, which has 41 captives and a 1,500-member staff, said his U.S. Coast Guard Port Security Unit could no longer be used to whisk the judge and his staff across the bay. The prison commander had provided the separate judicial shuttle service for years while the other court participants took a ferry across the bay.

Cashman said in a weekend interview it would be up to the senior war court official at the Pentagon to resolve the issue.

The withdrawal of the long-standing accommodation caused both Pohl and the judge in the USS Cole case, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, to abate proceedings last month.

Spath had already accepted the $300 utility boat offer as a suitable substitution and is on base this week for pretrial hearings.

However, in court Wednesday Spath scolded prosecutors over the issue.

He bristled at the tone of a still-sealed filing on the issue by the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, and his staff and lectured them that a judge and his advisers require separate travel arrangements for the integrity of the war court system, noting that Cole case defense lawyers already characterize it as "a sham."

Spath cast the issue as the potential to overhear discussion of the case by other war court travelers, which would be inappropriate, and the possibility of "an untoward comment that people will have to disclose."

"It is not a desire to be a prima donna. It is a desire to be kept separate," the veteran military judge told prosecutors, especially in such a cramped place as the naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Spath declared himself, already during travel to and from the base, "uncomfortable with proximity" to the shipmates and families of 17 sailors killed in the USS Cole attack off Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000. The prosecution brings the Cole families to Guantanamo to watch Spath preside in the capital case against Saudi Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of orchestrating the al-Qaida suicide bombing.

"Victim family members" travel on the same flight as the judge, attorneys, reporters, observers and other war court staff -- and both the trial judiciary and victims sometimes share the first-class cabin of the Pentagon charter flight.

He called the scene at Andrews Air Force Base, where the war court charter to this base originates, "a free-for-all."

The judge and his staff are segregated at Andrews' Distinguished Visitors Lounge, as are the victim families -- while the rest of the Guantanamo passengers wait in the main terminal for the flight.

Spath noted that he hadn't requested a separate plane for his team to avoid overhearing discussion of the case, but wondered aloud if his staff _ or the others attending hearings -- should take "the rotator," a regularly scheduled Navy charter that links the base to Jacksonville, Fla., and Norfolk, Va.

Still to be sorted out on the judicial sequestration issue is how to handle luggage belonging to the judge and his staff. It is stowed in the cargo hold of the plane that brings everyone else to hearings but has typically been separated on the tarmac for separate speedboat travel across the bay.

Spath noted in court that didn't happen this week. His staff members found themselves at the war court compound, Camp Justice, mixing with court participants as everyone fetched luggage that was commingled in the 5-ton truck that ferried it across the bay.

--This article is written by Carol Rosenberg from Miami Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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