WASHINGTON Military prosecutors have appealed a decision to dismiss charges against a Canadian man held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp on Cuba, the Pentagon said on Friday.
In a setback to the Bush administration's plans to prosecute foreign terrorism suspects, the judge designated to try prisoner Omar Khadr under the military commissions system dismissed murder and conspiracy charges against him on June 4.
The judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, said the case could not proceed because Khadr had not been designated an "unlawful enemy combatant," as required under the 2006 law that authorized military tribunals for foreign terrorism suspects.
But a military panel has declared Khadr an "enemy combatant" and prosecutors argue the two terms are essentially the same. They say the law was passed precisely to try individuals such as Khadr.
"The prosecution did file an appeal to the Court of Military Commission Review on Independence Day, July 4," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
"There's really no timeline or timetable for the court to reach any decision," he added.
Khadr, 20, is accused of killing one U.S. soldier with a grenade and wounding another during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.
Brownback has insisted the difference between an "enemy combatant" and an "unlawful enemy combatant" is critical because international law requires other types of trial for captives considered "lawful enemy combatants."
When the Guantanamo tribunals last met on June 4, another judge cited the same reasoning in dismissing the charges against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni prisoner accused of driving and guarding Osama bin Laden.
Late last month, Brownback rejected a prosecution request to reconsider his decision. The judge in the Hamdan case has not yet ruled on a similar request, Whitman said.
The Guantanamo prison camp, on a U.S. naval base, holds around 375 suspects accused of involvement with al Qaeda or associated Islamist militant movements. More than five years after it opened, only one prisoner has been convicted.
Australian David Hicks admitted training with al Qaeda and pleaded guilty in March to providing material support for terrorism. He was sent to Australia to serve a nine-month sentence. No other trial has advanced beyond preliminary hearings.
Rights groups and foreign governments have called for the jail to be shut, saying holding prisoners for years without trial violates international standards.
The Bush administration has said it would like to close the prison but has argued that it is legal and necessary for the moment to hold dangerous individuals.