US & Canada

USS Cole bombing suspect faces Guantanamo tribunal

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
Image caption Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is accused of buying the boat and explosives used in the USS Cole attack

The main suspect in the bombing of the American warship, the USS Cole, has appeared before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.

Saudi-born Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is alleged to have organised the attack in 2000, which killed 17 US sailors.

If found guilty he could face the death penalty.

Mr al-Nashiri, 46, has been in US custody since 2002 and is known to have been subjected to water boarding and mock executions.

After nine years in detention, the tribunal hearing is the first time he has appeared in public to hear the allegations against him.

Military courts

Facing charges of murder in violation of the law of war, Mr al-Nashiri did not enter a plea at the first session of the military tribunal.

He said he wanted to continue to be represented by his appointed legal team.

"At this moment these lawyers are doing the right job," he said.

Reporters at the scene say Mr al-Nashiri, who remained unshackled through the proceedings, appeared engaged, even smiling, as he responded to the judge's questions.

But he declined an offer to exchange his white prisoner's uniform for civilian attire in future court sessions.

Mr al-Nashiri also told the court he would be attending all the court sessions, even though he has the choice not to.

The judge tentatively set the trial date for November 2012. This date could be pushed back by months or years, especially as his lawyers try to challenge any statements Mr al-Nashiri made as a result of torture.

"By torturing Mr al-Nashiri and subjecting him to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the United States has forfeited its right to try him and certainly to kill him," his legal team wrote in one motion.

"Through the infliction of physical and psychological abuse the government has essentially already killed a man it seized almost 10 years ago."

The USS Cole was attacked by al-Qaeda in the Yemeni port of Aden on 12 October 2000.

The vessel, a destroyer, was rammed by a small craft laden with explosives, which blew a huge hole in the side.

In addition to the 17 sailors killed, 40 were wounded.

'Flawed proceedings'

The hearing at Guantanamo Bay marks the resumption of military trials there, which President Barack Obama has tried to stop.

There had been a freeze on new cases from January 2009, but Mr Obama announced in March this year that the tribunals would resume.

He had tried but failed to get agreement on alternative ways to deal with the most high-profile US terror suspects held at Guantanamo.

Image caption The USS Cole bombing was one of the most high profile al-Qaeda attacks before 11 September 2001

Mr al-Nashiri's case was about to be heard when the freeze was announced.

The proceedings were broadcast to the families of those killed in the USS Cole attack and to journalists for the first time.

Prosecutors say the military commissions at Guantanamo represent a fair balance between protecting America and opening proceedings to the public.

However, Mr al-Nashiri's defence team say the system is completely flawed, following revelations in a US congressional report that he was subjected to water boarding and mock executions.

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