The main suspect in the USS Cole bombing will be arraigned Wednesday at Guantanamo, in the first case under a US military tribunal since President Barack Obama reversed course and ordered their resumption.
Saudi-born Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 46, faces the death penalty for allegedly planning and preparing the October 2000 attack on the US Navy destroyer in Yemen’s port of Aden that killed 17 sailors and wounded 40 more.
It will be the first public appearance in years for a terror suspect who has been essentially invisible since his 2002 capture in the Gulf and subsequent incarceration at secret CIA prisons.
Nashiri, who is believed to have met several times with late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is accused of murder, acts of terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and attacks against civilians.
The Pentagon believes he bought the small boat and explosives used in the Cole attack.
He is also accused of involvement in a January 2000 attempted attack against another American warship in Aden, the USS The Sullivans, and a French oil tanker near Yemen.
Along with five men accused of orchestrating the attacks of September 11, 2001, Nashiri is among the “high-value detainees” held by the United States, and he could be the first terror suspect sentenced to death by a military court under the Obama administration.
A congressional investigation found that Nashiri was waterboarded while in custody, and that handlers loaded a gun and powered a drill near his head.
Obama has denounced waterboarding — a type of simulated or near-drowning — as torture, and Nashiri’s defense team said Tuesday that the US had lost “all moral authority” to try their client by torturing him in a secret prison.
“By torturing Mr Nashiri, the United States has lost all moral authority to try Mr Nashiri,” his civilian lawyer Richard Kammen told reporters.
“This is a big part of the case — what happened and how he was treated is important to a death penalty case, should we get to a death penalty case.”
Such claims of torture by the defense team could complicate the trial and revive debate over the efficacy of the anti-terror strategy of Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush.
Mark Martins, the military commission’s chief prosecutor for the case, said Tuesday that “no statement obtained as a result of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” would be admitted into evidence.
In a first, Wednesday’s arraignment will be broadcast to locations in the United States to allow relatives of Cole victims to watch the proceedings. Journalists can also watch a feed set up at the US Army’s Fort Meade in Maryland.
The broadcasts will be subject to a 40-second delay imposed by military censors, who will also have a kill switch at their disposal to stop the feed, if necessary, in order to protect classified information.
Military judges will read the indictment against al-Nashiri paving the way for a trial, although that could still be several months away.
Three trials have taken place at Guantanamo since Obama took office in January 2009 but those proceedings began under Bush.
In one of his first moves as president, Obama froze proceedings at the Guantanamo military tribunal as part of his ultimately ill-fated promise to close the US naval base in southeastern Cuba within a year of entering the White House.