Par for the Course: Yet Another 9/11 Guantanamo Hearing Cancelled

Last Friday the Office of the Military Commissions abruptly notified observers that the pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo Bay for the accused planners of the September 11th attacks, planned for April 4-15, had been cancelled. For those who have been following the hearings at Guantanamo for many years, this was a disappointing, though not surprising, announcement.

This year alone, four of the six scheduled hearing weeks have been cancelled. Last year, of the 20 scheduled hearing weeks, only six actually happened. That’s an average of nearly a 70 percent rate of cancellation for the last 15 months. In spite of this and other significant hurdles, many still claim the military commissions system is a better choice than the federal courts for trying suspected terrorists.

Why are these hearings cancelled so frequently? There are a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because a defendant recognized a translator from the black site where he was tortured. Sometimes it’s because the defense teams claim the government has repeatedly interfered by spying on confidential meetings with their clients. And sometimes the problem goes even deeper: the hearings in the government’s case against Abd Al-Rahim al Nashiri, accused of orchestrating an attack on a U.S. Navy ship in 2000, have been on hold for over a year while a federal court determines if the military commissions even have jurisdiction over the charges.

This month, the explanation isn’t quite as clear. Carol Rosenberg, reporting in The Miami Herald, summarized it beautifully in her recent article. The judge in the case, Army Colonel James L. Pohl, received a secret filing Friday afternoon from a Justice Department investigator regarding an FBI investigation of at least one of the defense teams discovered two years ago. The content of that investigation remains a mystery. So does the new filing. Still, whatever was in the notice was important enough for the judge to cancel two full weeks of scheduled hearings. There is a long history of conflict and delays created by the mysterious FBI investigation in this case, and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Such delays do not occur in civilian federal courts, where the procedures for pre-trial conduct are clear on all sides. If the cases before the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay had been brought in federal court, it is more than likely that all those currently facing trial would have been convicted and sentenced years ago. As it is, we will now wait a month and a half for the next scheduled pre-trial hearing in the 9/11 case and hope that it actually takes place.

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Published on April 6, 2016

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