FORT MEADE Md. (Reuters) - A military judge refused on Monday to recuse himself from the death penalty case of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner accused of organizing the 2000 bombing of the U.S. warship Cole.
The decision was in response to one of several pre-trial motions in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent. He is charged with organizing the suicide bombing of the Cole that killed 17 American sailors and injured 42 in a Yemeni port.
Defense attorney Richard Kammen argued that the newly appointed judge, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, could be biased because a member of the defense team was working to appeal a separate death penalty sentence that Spath oversaw in 2005.
“Our concern is none of us are as good at compartmentalizing as we think we are,” said Kammen, who questioned Spath for more than two hours about his knowledge of Islam, opinions on the death penalty and career history.
After a recess, Spath concluded that there was “no actual bias” and denied the motion.
The regular chief judge in the military commissions, Army Colonel Judge James Pohl, removed himself from al-Nashiri’s trial in July. He cited scheduling conflicts with the trial of those accused in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed 3,000 people.
Pohl handed the defense in the Cole case a major victory in April when he ordered prosecutors to share with defense lawyers details about what happened to al-Nashiri in secret CIA prisons, where he was held for nearly four years following his arrest in 2002.
The defense said on Monday they had not received many of the promised documents.
Attorneys for al-Nashiri have said he was forced to stand naked and hooded in his cell while his interrogator operated a power drill, making the detainee believe he would be harmed. In another incident, the lawyers have said, an interrogator cocked a pistol next to al-Nashiri’s head.
Al-Nashiri, whose trial is tentatively set to begin in February, sat quietly beside his attorneys during the hearing at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The hearing was carried by closed-circuit television to a press room at Fort Meade, Maryland, outside Washington.
Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Walsh