By Chantal Valery (AFP)
FORT MEADE, Maryland — The main suspect in the USS Cole bombing on Tuesday refused to attend a court hearing at the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba to protest having to wear chains.
Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the deadly October 2000 attack, declined to attend the hearing “to protest the use of chains,” a prison official told the military court.
When the prisoner was summoned about 1030 GMT Tuesday, he wrote a sentence in Arabic refusing his right to be present at the proceedings, according to the retransmission of the proceedings at a Maryland base, the official said.
The officer, who was not identified, said the suspect opposed using “belly chains to transport to court.”
Defense attorney Captain Stephen Reyes said “he was to be chained to be brought to court. He wanted to attend but he refused.”
Reyes argued that a defendant in a capital case could waive his right to be present to avoid listening “over and over again how the US government tortured him.”
Nashiri, like the September 11 suspects held at Guantanamo, was subjected to harsh interrogations while being held at a secret CIA prison in Poland, former CIA director Michael Hayden has acknowledged.
Chief prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins said that rules governing the special military tribunals make “no mention of his right of absence anywhere.”
“There’s a legitimate interest in seeing someone face justice for serious crimes,” Martins insisted, adding that that should not be “trivialized.”
But Judge Colonel James Pohl ruled that Nashiri did not have to attend the hearing, saying the suspect had “knowingly, voluntarily waived his right to be present.”
However, he ordered Nashiri to keep the court informed in case he changed his mind about waiving his right to be present on other days.
“I’m just ensuring that he understands periodically the right that he’s waiving,” the judge said before ending proceedings for the day.
Nashiri, 47, allegedly an associate of late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been in US custody since 2002.
The United States is seeking the death penalty against Nashiri, who is accused of directing the suicide attack in Yemen that left 17 sailors dead.
Militants drove an explosives-laden skiff into the side of the Cole in the port of Aden, blowing a 30-by-30-foot (10-by-10-meter) hole in the destroyer and nearly sinking it. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.
Nashiri is also accused of being behind a 2002 attack on the French oil tanker MV Limburg that killed one person.
The proceedings were monitored by journalists and relatives of some of the victims via a live closed-circuit feed in Fort Meade, Maryland, near Washington.