GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — Military prosecutors and defense attorneys for the man accused of plotting an attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors haggled over the defense team’s expenses on Thursday, with a judge ultimately ordering the government to estimate how much it has spent on its investigation into the 2000 bombing.
Had things gone a bit differently, Thursday would have likely been the day that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri testified about his torture while he was held at overseas CIA “black sites.” But the judge in the case averted that testimony (for now, at least), ordering prison officials to allow al-Nashiri to meet with his defense team unshackled, which recently has not been allowed. Shackling was used by the CIA and would be traumatic for the 47-year-old Saudi, according to his defense team.
Instead Thursday the government and al-Nashiri’s four defense attorneys argued a series of procedural motions on what was the second and final day of al-Nashiri’s pre-trial hearing. The actual trial is scheduled for November.
One point of contention: how much money the defense team could spend to prepare for the trial. Head prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins estimated that $100,000 has already been approved to cover the costs of defense experts and investigators, an estimate which excludes the cost of travel, a translator and four lawyers. Martins said that sum “is comparable to or in excess of those provided the defense in civilian court and court-martial capital cases.”
Martins told reporters that there was no set budget for the al-Nashiri trial. But al-Nashiri defense lawyer Richard Kammen said that it “seems to be the attitude of the military that we can kill him and do it cheaply. We think that is transparently unfair.”
Some family members of victims of the USS Cole attack, speaking after the trial, in a press room set up in an old airplane hanger that now serves as Camp Justice’s media center, said that al-Nashiri’s cost shouldn’t be an issue.
“As long as justice prevails, that’s what matters. I think if you start scrimping on the money, something has to give way,” Jesse Nieto, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant who lost his son Mark in the USS Cole attack.
“But then again, if you go the other way, you get the GSA type deal,” Nieto said, referring to the overspending scandal at the General Services Administration which has led to several firings and resignations.
“As far as I’m concerned, money is no option,” said Ron Francis, a former Navy officer who lost his daughter in the Cole bombing. “We are Americans. We seek justice. And the whole world’s looking at us, and how we go about doing justice.”
“He’s fighting for his life … so we are a fair and human country,” Francis said. “So in that aspect, money is no option.”
NOT LIKE SCOOTER
Military prosecutors on the case against al-Nashiri also argued before Judge Col. James L. Pohl that the case was nothing like the case against former Dick Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby.
The comparison between al-Nashiri and the 2007 national security case against Libby — which first raised during a January hearing — came up once again on Thursday as al-Nashiri’s legal team argued that they should be able to appeal the summaries of classified information that the government provides.
“The facts are so distinguishable from any other case that has ever applied CIPA because the defendant in that case had a security clearance and he had previously had access to the same documents that the government was attempting to summarize and substitute,” Joanna Baltes, a Justice Department lawyer assisting in the case, told the military court. “We do not have that situation here, nor have the courts ever faced that in any other national security or terrorism cases.”