September 28, 2011
Pentagon launches war court website
By Carol Rosenberg | The Miami Herald
The Pentagon on Wednesday morning went live with a new, slicker interactive military commissions website — with no new information — ahead of a decision from a senior Defense Department official on whether to go forward with the first death penalty war crimes prosecution of the Obama administration.
Defense sources said retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald was still deciding how to go forward in the case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 46, a former Saudi millionaire accused of masterminding Al Qaida’s suicide bombing of a Navy destroyer off the coast of Yemen two decades ago.
Nashiri’s trial is bound to put a spotlight on both the CIA’s treatment of its captives and also on Navy security in October 2000 off Aden, Yemen, where the warship was on a refuelng stop when two suicide bombers drove a bomb-laden skiff into the USS Cole. Seventeen American sailors were killed.
The $1.1 billion warship was crippled but subsequently rebuilt and calls Norfolk, Va., home when it’s not at sea.
Wednesday, the new website showed that prosecutors were still seeking a capitol murder trial in the case, in the latest version of their charge sheet from Sept. 15. But it did not include a July 15 filing by Nashiri’s defenders that argued that the case was too tainted by torture, delay and an untested process to go forward.
While he was held in a secret CIA prison, an agent revved a power drill near the head of a naked, hooded Nashiri, who was also subjected to water boarding, a technique that Attorney General Eric Holder has called torture.
Pentagon lawyers and contractors have spent the summer readying the war court for prosecutions by military commission, the court former President George W. Bush created and Barack Obama criticized as a senator then reformed as president. MacDonald inspected the Camp Justice compound the week of Sept. 11 a crude tent city and espionage-proof maximum-security court where first Nashiri and later the five accused 9/11 terror attack plotters could face death penalty trials before military judges and juries.
The new website appeared on Wednesday morning without an announcement from the Secretary of Defense’s Public Affairs office, which has handled military commissions releases for the past six years. Instead, a former Bush era Defense Department deputy responsible for detention issues broke the news on a Heritage Foundation blog. Cully Stimson, himself a Navy reserve judge, said the new site heralded a new ear of transparency in the at-times secretive court proceedings.
It was the second revelation from the Obama Defense Department to be revealed in conservative circles. Sunday, The Weekly Standard magazine included a profile of the new Obama era War Crimes Prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen Mark Martins, pledging to beam closed-circuit broadcasts of remote Guantánamo proceedings to both victims and media viewing centers on U.S. soil.
The Pentagon has declined to say whether they’ve established a viewing center in Norfolk for the Nashiri case, nor whether media would watch proceedings alongside the victims or at a separate location.
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