Thursday, September 17, 2009
U.S. wants additional two-month delay in terror trials
With the second of two U.S.-requested 120-day delays in the start of military trials for suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Obama administration says it will request an additional two-month postponement, the Reuters international news service reported Wednesday. In a legal filing in a challenge brought by accused Sept. 11 conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., federal prosecutors asked for the delay on the grounds that the Military Commissions Act, under which the trials are being conducted, "may be substantially amended" in the next two months and because, Reuters said, the government may decide "to prosecute [Binalshibh] in federal court." Binalshibh is accused of being a go-between between al-Qaida leaders and the Sept. 11 hijackers. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and held by the CIA four years before being sent to Guantanamo Bay. He is scheduled for a competency hearing on Sept. 21 before a miltitary judge at Guantanamo to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial and to represent himself, as he has requested. The federal appeals court filing was in response to Binalshibh's effort to block the competency hearing scheduled and to have the military commissions system declared unconstitutional. In it, the government contends that the appeals court cannot intervene in Binalshibh's case because there has not yet been a decision and, even if there was, he first must appeal through the system of military commissions set up by former U.S. President George W. Bush. Congress is considering proposals to overhaul the commission system to bar statements made under harsh interrogation and to limit to use of hearsay evidence. Of course, the legal moves reflect more than the usual maneuvering in court proceedings. They actually represent what is perhaps the most difficult task faced by the Obama administration -- maintaining the continuity required in federal prosecutions while trying to reverse the Bush administration's most ill-advised policies.