Guantanamo trial halted for 9-11 accused

Wed Jan 21, 2009 3:56pm EST
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By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A U.S. military judge on Wednesday halted the trial of five prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks, giving President Barack Obama the time he sought to decide whether to scrap the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals.

Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp that was widely seen as a stain on the United States' human rights record and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge under the Bush administration.

If Obama signs a draft order obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, the prison camp would close within a year.

Hours after taking office on Tuesday, Obama ordered prosecutors in the Guantanamo court to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases. He asked for time to review the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution.

The move freezes proceedings against 21 prisoners at least until late May but was viewed by defense lawyers as the death knell for the special tribunals that the Bush administration established at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in southeast Cuba.

Self-confessed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants objected to the delay. They had said in previous hearings that they wanted to plead guilty to the mass murder charges that could result in their execution for the hijacked plane attacks in 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people.

But military prosecutors said it should be up to the president to decide whether to continue his predecessor's policies.

Another Guantanamo judge halted the case against young Canadian captive Omar Khadr, who was captured at age 15 and is accused of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002.   Continued...

<p>In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. Military, the five Sept. 11, 2001 attack co-defendants sit during a hearing at the U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, January 19, 2009. From top to bottom, they are Khalid Sheikh Momhammed, Waleed Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmad al Hawsawi. REUTERS/Janet Hamlin/Pool</p>