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Fishy Business: Military Commission for Mastermind of USS Cole Attack Delayed, Again

The military commission for a top al Qaeda operative has been delayed for no good reason, according to a report.

2:04 PM, Aug 27, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The Obama administration has delayed the trial by military commission of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the mastermind of the USS Cole attack, according to the Washington Post. The Defense Department denies this, saying in a statement that prosecutors “are actively investigating the case against Mr. al-Nashiri and are developing charges against him.”

Is it taking this long to prepare for Nashiri’s trial – nearly ten years after the Cole was attacked and 17 American servicemen were killed?

That’s hard to believe. And the Post talked to some “military officials” who “said a team of prosecutors in the Nashiri case has been ready [to] go to trial for some time.” Here is the kicker:

"It's politics at this point," said one military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy. He said he thinks the administration does not want to proceed against a high-value detainee without some prospect of civilian trials for other major figures at Guantanamo Bay.

A White House official disputed this, but the Post did not offer any other good reason for the delay.

Is the Obama administration really holding up Nashiri’s trial because they want to make sure civilian trials for other detainees (i.e. the 9/11 co-conspirators) don’t lag behind?

That’s not so hard to believe, unfortunately. The administration has tried to please left-wing human rights groups by (initially, anyway) pushing forward with a federal criminal trial for top al Qaeda terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If Nashiri’s trial by military commission moves faster than KSM’s trial by federal court, then the administration may have a PR problem.

The Post reports the usual caveat: Nashiri was waterboarded (one of only three al Qaeda terrorists who were subjected to that treatment) and this complicates things “because any incriminating statements Nashiri might have made are probably inadmissible under the 2009 Military Commissions Act.” As a result, prosecutors will be relying heavily on the statements of two Yemeni detainees, both of whom implicated Nashiri during interviews with the FBI.

But here’s the catch. When Nashiri testified before his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Gitmo he made all sorts of admissions. Those concessions cannot be easily dismissed because they weren’t part of an interrogation. Nashiri was free to say whatever he wanted in response to the allegations, and he did.

Nashiri did not admit outright that he conspired with Osama bin Laden. Instead, Nashiri offered implausible explanations for his sordid history. In particular, Nashiri admitted that he met with Osama bin Laden often, but said this was in the context of his fishing business.

Here is an excerpt from Nashiri’s CSRT (emphasis added):

Tribunal Member: How many times did you meet Osama bin Laden and did you take money from him every time?

Nashiri: Many times. I don't remember what year I met Osama bin Laden. What year, I don't remember. I don't remember what year. Maybe 96 or 95. And during that time whenever [I] went to Afghanistan I just stop by and visited him. And if I needed money I would just ask him and he would give money to me.

Tribunal Member: What was the money used for? And, how much did you take?

Nashiri: Personal expenses. Many times I would tell, give me three of four thousand dollars and he would give them to me. And I use them as personal expenses. When [sic] went to have a project in Yemen, I took money from him several times. I don’t know the total amount of money. Maybe ten thousand. After that five thousand. And the second project after that. After the Cole incident ended[,] I wanted to have a fishing project in Pakistan and a wooden ship in Dubai. I also ask Usama bin Laden to support me.So the bottom line is that I took money from Usama bin Laden for a fishing project. I was under the impression that the project was mine. And it was a fishing project. I didn’t care about Usama bin Laden. If the project succeeded, I would have paid the money back to Usama bin Laden. That’s it. I understood it as being a loan. But when he told me that we could use this for bombing something…

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