July 15, 2009 / 9:56 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. wants more delays at Guantanamo war court

<p>Canadian defendant Omar Khadr (L) sits with his defense team during a hearing inside the courthouse for the U.S. military war crimes commission at the Camp Justice compound at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, July 15, 2009, in this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin which was reviewed by the U.S. military. REUTERS/Janet Hamlin/Pool</p>

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - U.S. military prosecutors asked the Guantanamo war courts on Wednesday to further delay cases against three prisoners to give the Obama administration more time to sort out the future of the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War Two.

The beleaguered Guantanamo war court, hobbled by legal challenges and technical problems, creaked into session for only the second time since U.S. President Barack Obama cast it into limbo shortly after he took office in January.

Judges hearing the cases of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr and Sudanese Ibrahim Ahmed al Qosi did not immediately rule on the requests for delays, while a delay until September was granted in the case against Afghan Mohammed Kamin.

Prosecutions are on hold while the administration evaluates the war court, which was created by former President George W. Bush to try suspects in his war on terrorism.

Obama has ordered the Guantanamo detention camp, which became a stain on America’s human rights reputation and has been widely criticized by rights advocates, closed by next January.

But Washington is still trying to determine what to do with the approximately 240 prisoners who remain. Only 11 have been charged with crimes and U.S. military prosecutors say they have viable cases against 66.

“INDEFINITE DETENTION”

Prosecutors asked the war court on Wednesday to delay the cases until September “in the interest of justice” to allow the administration time to complete its review.

“The continuance is needed ... to address and eliminate all possible challenges to this process,” said Marine Corps Captain Seamus Quinn, who is prosecuting al Qosi.

Defense lawyers chastised the government for playing politics with the lives of Kamin and al Qosi, both of whom have been imprisoned at the remote U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for years.

In simultaneous hearings held in separate courtrooms at the base, the defense lawyers asked the military judges to either dismiss the charges or move forward.

“You cannot sit somebody in indefinite detention. It violates every principle we have as Americans,” Navy Lieutenant Commander Travis Owens said.

Kamin is accused of joining al Qaeda, the Islamic militant group accused in the September 11, 2001 attacks, training to make detonators for roadside bombs and transporting weapons to be used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Al Qosi, who was born in Khartoum, a one-time base for Osama bin Laden, is accused of serving as a bodyguard and driver who helped the al Qaeda leader escape to the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Khadr, the only citizen of a Western nation still held at Guantanamo, was 15 years old when he was captured. Now 22, he is accused of killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan seven years ago.

The war court reconvenes on Thursday in the separate case against the five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks against the United States, including self-described mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The main issues for the court surround the mental competency of two of the defendants, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

Editing by Tom Brown and Vicki Allen

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