- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

U.S. NAVAL BASE, GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba | The unfinished review of the cases against 229 suspected terrorists held at the detention center here has slowed the legal process to a crawl, leaving military prosecutors - and even judges - bewildered as to how to move forward.

At the end of a hearing Wednesday for Mohammed Kamin, an Afghan national accused of attending an al Qaeda training camp and aiding terrorists, the judge in the case, Air Force Col. W. Thomas Cumbie, laid out a convoluted path forward, ranging from a continuance to outright dismissal.

He then said with a wry smile: “Is that clear as mud?”

While military lawyers say they are prepared to go to trial with at least 66 suspected terrorists now held in extrajudicial detention, President Obama’s executive order two days after taking office has tied their hands, suspending all proceedings pending a review that nearly seven months later is about half complete.

“Under the executive order there’s a stay, so we cannot proceed to a plea, we cannot proceed to a trial,” said Capt. John F. Murphy, chief prosecutor of the Office of Military Commissions. “We’re ready to go to trial whenever we are told to do so, but we’re awaiting our direction from the administration.”

In another hearing Wednesday, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, a top aide to Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, spent 90 minutes in a high-security courtroom behind razor-wire fences as military prosecutors argued to delay the case until at least September - the deadline for the review.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Seamus Quinn, a military prosecutor, told the judge that proceeding with the case now “would be an injustice to all concerned.” He said the delay is needed to “address and eliminate all possible challenges” to the government’s case.

Defense attorneys also went on the attack, asking the military judges to either dismiss the charges or move forward. “You cannot sit somebody in indefinite detention. It violates every principle we have as Americans,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Travis Owens, a lawyer representing Al Qosi.

Al Qosi is one of several “high-value detainees” already charged under the existing commission system. Among about 20 other detainees who face tribunals at Guantanamo are Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other suspected conspirators in the Sept. 11 attacks. If convicted, the five men could be executed.

A government task force has reviewed half of cases against the 229 suspects to determine which ones should be transferred, tried or held indefinitely, said a military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The White House did not respond to questions about the status of the review and the delays in proceedings.

Closing the military prison - as Mr. Obama has vowed to do by January - has proved far more difficult than originally thought.

The president has delivered mixed signals on the military commission now under way in Gitmo. On Jan. 22, he issued a presidential decree ordering that “all proceedings of such military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered, and all proceedings pending in the United States Court of Military Commission Review, are halted.”

In May, though, Mr. Obama announced that he would revive the Guantanamo military tribunal system established in 2006 by President Bush, saying new legal safeguards, such as banning evidence obtained through inhumane interrogation methods, would be established.

Two days later, on May 21, Mr. Obama said in a speech at the National Archives in Washington that the tribunals are “an appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war.” But at the same time, he lashed out at the Bush administration for what he called undue delays.

“For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of military commissions that were in place at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that - three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setback after setback, cases lingered on,” he said.

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