This short article was developed in partnership with the Pulitzer Centre on Disaster Reporting.
WASHINGTON — The navy choose presiding in the Sept. 11 loss of life-penalty demo at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has scheduled his retirement for later on this year, in the newest blow to efforts to begin the long-operating trial in 2021.
The decide, Col. W. Shane Cohen, wrote in a a single-web page letter to the chief war court docket decide that he was ending his 21 decades of Air Drive services on July 1. Unless of course an additional decide is appointed sooner, he wrote, April 24 would be his very last working day presiding in the case from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other males who are accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed 2,976 men and women in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
The looming departure of the choose, coupled with a recent shutdown of legal workforce entry to the United States Navy foundation jail zone simply because of the coronavirus pandemic, forged a shadow on the potential customers of assembly the target start off day of Jan. 22, 2021. A new decide has to be picked out, and he or she will want time to read through the a lot more than 33,150-site transcript of the case as nicely as hundreds of authorized filings, some nonetheless awaiting rulings.
Colonel Cohen’s conclusion to depart the circumstance also comes as he has been hearing testimony — and has scheduled a lot more witnesses — in an ongoing established of hearings on the defense lawyers’ requests to exclude from the trial the F.B.I. interrogations of the men in 2007. The protection lawyers say those people interrogations are tainted by the torture the defendants endured through their 3 and four a long time in mystery C.I.A. prisons.
Even though two psychologists who waterboarded Mr. Mohammed and intended the agency’s interrogation procedures as contractors testified before this calendar year, their testimony has not nevertheless been finished.
In his letter, dated March 17, Colonel Cohen mentioned he was acting in “the greatest interests of my family and was not impacted by any outdoors influence from any resource.” In an open up session of the war court docket on June 17, Colonel Cohen told a defense lawyer that he thought “a court docket of this magnitude” necessary “some degree of continuity” that would “allow this case to move forward and for some continuity in rulings by the navy choose.”
Colonel Cohen, the third judge in the scenario, was the initially to set a trial date and an aggressive hearing and demo agenda that would have expected very long stretches of time at the remote Navy base in southeast Cuba. In recent hearings, he had started to counsel that the demo alone could get started later on than January 2021 and enhanced his trial time estimate to 12 to 13 months from his initial 9-month prediction.
The judge’s choice arrives at a time of uncertainty about trial preparation all through the coronavirus pandemic. Guantánamo this 7 days disclosed that a sailor there was the to start with of its 6,000 people to exam good for Covid-19, the disorder prompted by the virus.
Terry Rockefeller, who shed her sister Laura in the 2001 assault on the World Trade Heart, reported she was “outraged and deeply involved about the likelihood of further hold off. Choose Cohen purported to be fully commited to viewing the 9/11 demo as a result of to a conclusion.”
The prison over the weekend halted legal meetings for all 40 wartime prisoners there.
All of the lawful team users are primarily based in the United States. Less than a new coverage, instituted in reaction to the virus outbreak, lawyers who receive “mission vital status” to acquire a Navy air shuttle to Guantánamo must stay in isolation for two weeks at housing close to the airstrip prior to getting permitted to cross Guantánamo Bay to the internet site of the jail.
As of Wednesday, no prisoner had the virus, in accordance to S. Maria Lohmeyer, a Navy commander and a spokeswoman for detention functions.
She reported the guards and other detention heart team had planned “for weeks” and rehearsed “for the chance of Covid-19,” like “scenarios that would have to have isolation.” She did not provide specifics but explained the prison management experienced “implemented a layered defense that contains avoidance and precautionary actions.”