The Obama administration has put a hold a military commission that was set to prosecute the alleged mastermind behind the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. The move is the latest in the ongoing saga over whether or not Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri will be held accountable for his role in the attack that killed 17 American sailors.
A motion filed by the Justice Department appears to have sparked a debate within the administration over the fate of a military commission to prosecute Nashiri. The Washington Post reports that:
"in a filing this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia, the Justice Department said that 'no charges are either pending or contemplated with respect to al-Nashiri in the near future.'"
But, as the Post points out, the Defense Department later issued a statement saying "prosecutors in the Office of Military Commissions are actively investigating the case against Mr. al-Nashiri and are developing charges against him."
Nashiri has been held at Guantanamo Bay since his arrest in September of 2006 in connection with the plot. Two men appearing to be civilians piloted a small skiff toward the Cole in the Port of Aden, and detonated explosives hidden inside their vessel. During questioning by a panel of investigators at Guantanamo Bay, Nashiri denied being a close associate of Osama bin Laden and senior al Qaida leadership.
Board Member: So, you took money from Osama bin Laden in order to get married? To get married and because he was being generous to you?
Nashiri: Yes. I took a lot of money from him.
Board Member: And, you gave explosives to friends but that was to dig wells?
Nashiri: Yes. But during the investigation I told them those things were used to bomb, to bomb the Cole.
Board Member: And, [your] involvement with the people, who did bomb the Cole or involved in the Limburg, was because of your fishing business and not because of the bombing?
Nashiri: Yes. It was business relationship, like fishing projects.
Despite these denials, in 2008 al-Nashiri, a Saudi national, was formally charged with planning and participating in the attack.
The Defense Department continued preparations for the military commission until February 2009, when President Obama was forced to withdraw charges following a military judge's denial of the president's request for a 120 day delay in Nashiri's case.
Since then, however, the government has appeared prepared to revive the case, with Attorney General Holder announcing last year that:
"with regard to the Cole bombing, that was an attack on a United States warship, and that, I think, is appropriately placed into the military commission setting."