Pretrial hearings to begin for Guantanamo detainees
AFP - Tuesday, January 20
GUANTANAMO BAY US NAVAL BASE, Cuba, (AFP) - - A full week of pretrial hearings is set to begin at the US naval base here Monday as incoming US president Barack Obama prepares to shut down the controversial "war on terror" detention camp.
A mental competence hearing is scheduled for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, alleged co-conspirator of the September 11, 2001 attacks. All five men charged with plotting the attacks are expected to appear at the hearing.
In December, the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants said they would submit guilty pleas to terror charges pending mental competency evaluations. Judge Stephen Henley said the defendants also wanted to dismiss their tribunal-appointed attorneys.
Should the guilty pleas go forward, the men could be sentence to death.
Evidentiary motions are also planned for Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen arrested in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old for allegedly killing a US soldier with a hand grenade. His trial has been set to begin on January 26.
But experts predict the trial may never take place.
"The military commissions are going to be stopped next Tuesday or Wednesday. It is expectable that the process is going to be stopped ... before it (the Khadr trial) starts," said Sarah Mendelson, a human rights and security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mandated by Congress in 2006, the military commissions were established by the administration of President George W. Bush to try unlawful enemy combatants. The controversial system allows convictions based on classified evidence, hearsay and evidence obtained under coercion.
Of the 245 inmates still held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only about 20 have been charged, including the five men accused of conspiring to plot the 9/11 attacks.
On Saturday, the Defense Department announced that five prisoners had been transferred abroad; four to Iraq and one to Algeria, adding that the transfer was "a demonstration of the United States' desire not to hold detainees any longer than necessary."
Obama, who takes office on Tuesday, will likely make good on his campaign promise and shutter Guantanamo by issuing an executive order suspending Bush's military commissions system for trying detainees, according to reports.
Obama's future White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told Fox News on Sunday that the president-elect would meet with his top economic and defense advisors on Wednesday, and would later make an announcement regarding Guantanamo, without indicating exactly when.
"I have confidence in the process. We are flexible prosecutors ..."We'll be prepared to execute the orders of the new administration," Chief Guantanamo prosecutor Colonel Lawrence Morris told reporters.
However, it could take several months to fully close down the detention camp, as US officials will have to transfer some of the 248 prisoners there to other countries and then decide whether to try the remaining suspects.
Obama has acknowledged that closing the camp will take longer than many of his supporters had hoped.
Attorney general designate Eric Holder said at his Senate confirmation Thursday that the Obama team was already taking steps to prepare to close the "war on terror" prison.
"Guantanamo will be closed," Holder said. He declined to give a date for the closure, but said that "steps are being taken as we speak."
He also said that "waterboarding is torture," marking a dramatic departure from the Bush administration. The CIA has admitted to using the simulated drowning technique on alleged 9/11 plotters.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Susan Crawford, the convening authority on military commissions, recognized that suspected 9/11 co-conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani had been tortured, making her the first Bush administration official to publicly state that a detainee had been tortured.
Established in early 2002 following the US-led offensive in Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was designed to hold suspected terrorists who the Bush administration claimed were not covered by the Geneva Conventions for treatment of prisoners of war because they were "enemy combatants," fighting for a non-state organization.
Over the years, some 800 detainees have gone through Guantanamo, including 520 transferred to other countries to be held or released.
About 60 prisoners deemed no longer a threat have been cleared for transfer or release, but their home countries have been reluctant to take them.
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Drawing by court artist shows Canadian-born accused terrorist Omar Khadr (L) during a pre-trial session in December at "Camp Justice" in Guantanamo Bay. A full week of pretrial hearings is set to begin at the US naval base Monday as incoming US president Barack Obama prepares to shut down the controversial "war on terror" detention camp.
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