WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge will decide whether Osama bin Laden’s former driver, held at the Guantanamo Bay prison, can stop his military tribunal from going forward, the U.S. District Court in Washington said on Wednesday.
In another action also prompted by a landmark Supreme Court ruling allowing prisoners to seek their release, the court named another judge to coordinate the cases of all those held at the prison,
The steps were taken to speed up proceedings for detainees in President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism following last month’s ruling, which dealt the administration a stinging rebuke.
“It has been determined that one initial issue to be decided will be a motion to enjoin a military commission from going forward,” Chief Judge Royce Lamberth said.
He said U.S. District Judge James Robertson was assigned that issue and it will be decided initially in a case involving Salim Hamdan, who was the driver for al Qaeda leader bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Hamdan was to be the first prisoner tried in the U.S. war crimes court at the Guantanamo naval base on Cuba. Last month, a U.S. military judge postponed the trial until July 21 to allow time to assess Hamdan’s mental competency.
There now are about 270 detainees at Guantanamo, which was set up in January of 2002 to hold terrorism suspects captured after the September 11 attacks. Most have been held for years without being charged and many have complained of abuse.
Defense lawyers, including one for Hamdan, had said the Supreme Court’s ruling gave the defendants another avenue to challenge the jurisdiction of the Guantanamo court to put them on trial.
Lamberth said all the judges with the U.S. District Court in Washington adopted a resolution designating senior Judge Thomas Hogan to coordinate and manage proceedings in all the Guantanamo cases.
Hogan will rule on procedural issues common to the cases and Hogan or one of the other judges will decide common substantive issues. Hogan set a July 8 hearing to set a schedule after hearing from U.S. government and detainee lawyers.
“The judges of this court are committed to deciding these cases as expeditiously as possible,” Lamberth said in a statement.
“The judges are convinced that the coordination and case management role assigned to Judge Hogan will greatly assist in moving all of these cases to a prompt resolution,” he said.
The court said it has pending nearly nearly 250 cases involving more than 643 individual detainees who have been or are being held at Guantanamo Bay. It said several dozen new cases are expected to be filed in the near future.
Editing by David Alexander and David Storey