By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 6, 2009 - Charges against an accused terrorist being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were dismissed yesterday by the judge who oversees the military commissions system, Defense Department officials said. Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority for military commissions at Guantanamo, yesterday dismissed the government's charges against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in accordance with President Barack Obama's order to temporarily halt activities there, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told the Pentagon Channel today.
However, Nashiri isn't going anywhere, Morrell pointed out. The suspected al-Qaida operative, he said, will remain confined at Guantanamo and could have charges brought against him in the future.
Nashiri "will remain in custody, charges can be brought against him again if the administration would choose to do so in the future, and we are fully in compliance with the executive order the president signed a couple of days after his inauguration, halting all military commissions activities" at Guantanamo, Morrell said.
The White House has tasked the Pentagon to review detention operations at Guantanamo to ascertain whether or not detainees are humanely treated according to the Geneva Conventions.
Obama is scheduled to meet with victims of the USS Cole bombing and the 9/11 attacks at the White House today.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates this week directed Navy Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the vice chief of Naval Operations, to lead the Pentagon's assessment of Guantanamo's detainee operations. Walsh is at Guantanamo now and his review is to be completed within 30 days.
Nashiri is the alleged planner of the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole when it was berthed in Aden, Yemen. Seventeen U.S. sailors died and 39 were injured in the attack.
Some family members and friends of servicemembers killed or injured in the USS Cole attack have voiced concerns that Nashiri could escape justice if the detention center is closed within a year, as is stipulated by Obama's Jan. 22 executive order.
"We all feel for them," Morrell said of the grieving families and friends. "The last thing anyone wants to do is victimize these people twice."
The bottom line, Morrell said, is that Nashiri remains in U.S. custody.
"He is confined and will be until some determination is made by a court or some legal authority in the future," Morrell said. "The only thing that has happened now is that his legal case will not proceed while this review is under way into the whole military commissions process."
A military judge at Guantanamo on July 29 ordered that legal proceedings against Nashiri continue. The judge scheduled Nashiri to be arraigned Feb. 9. The judge's order contradicted Obama's Jan. 20 directive to Gates to cease referring any new cases through the military commissions process at Guantanamo Bay and to request 120-day continuances on all active cases there. Two days later, the president issued three executive orders, one of which directs the closure of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay within the year.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon yesterday said that Crawford's decision regarding Nashiri "reflects the fact that the president has issued an executive order which mandates that the military commissions be halted, pending the outcome of several comprehensive reviews of our detention operations at Guantanamo."