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U.S. drops charges against 5 Gitmo prisoners

Pentagon said Tuesday it has dropped war-crimes charges against five Guantanamo Bay detainees after the former prosecutor complained that the military was withholding evidence.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Pentagon said Tuesday it has dropped war-crimes charges against five Guantanamo Bay detainees after the former prosecutor in their cases complained that the military was withholding evidence helpful to the defense.

There are no plans to free any of the men, and the military said it could reinstate charges later.

America's first war-crimes trials since the close of World War II have come under persistent criticism, including from officers appointed to prosecute them. Some of the harshest words came last month from the very man who was to prosecute the five men against whom charges were dropped.

Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld said during a pretrial hearing for a sixth detainee this month that the war-crimes trials are unfair. Vandeveld said the military was withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense in that case, and was doing so in others. He resigned over his concerns.

But the chief Guantanamo prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said Tuesday's announcement was unrelated to Vandeveld's accusations. He said the charges were dismissed because evidence "is being more thoroughly analyzed." He would not elaborate on the nature of the evidence but said the review began before Vandeveld's testimony.

"Rather than refine the current charges, it was more efficient and more just to have them dismissed and charge them anew," he told The Associated Press.

Move allows Pentagon to avoid deadlines
The military previously dropped all charges against only one detainee, a Saudi who allegedly had hoped to become a Sept. 11 hijacker. The five men against whom charges were dropped on Monday represent almost one-quarter of all Guantanamo detainees who currently face preliminary or final charges.

Dismissing the charges allows to Pentagon to avoid deadlines set by the Military Commissions Act to bring the men to trial.

"The way to stop the clock and get a new clock is to dismiss the charges and start again," said retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor who quit in October and later testified about alleged political interference in the military trials.

Morris has appointed new trial teams for all five cases that will coordinate with intelligence agencies and recommend what to do next.

Clive Stafford Smith, a civilian attorney representing one of the five, Binyam Mohamed, said he has already been notified that charges against his client will be reinstated.

"Far from being a victory for Mr. Mohamed in his long-running struggle for justice, this is more of the same farce that is Guantanamo," Stafford Smith said. "The military has informed us that they plan to charge him again within a month, after the election."

Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, who represents another of the five detainees, said the military might be preparing the tribunals to face increased scrutiny following next month's presidential election. John McCain and Barack Obama have both said they want to close Guantanamo Bay.

Are the war-crimes trials a mistake?
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the military's latest move showed the war-crimes trials are a mistake.

"The implosion of these five prosecutions painfully underscores how the Bush administration's torture and detention policies have failed to render justice in any sense of the word," Romero said.

The military also said Tuesday it has finalized charges against an additional detainee, Mohammed Hashim, an Afghan who is about 32. He is accused of providing material support to terrorism and spying, and could face life in prison.

The detainees against whom charges were dropped are Mohamed, Noor Uthman Muhammed, Sufyiam Barhoumi, Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi and Jabran Said Bin al Qahtani.

Also Tuesday, the Pentagon said it will allow victims of terrorist attacks and their relatives to attend trials at Guantanamo. Five people at a time will be selected randomly to travel to the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Others will be allowed to watch the trials at closed-circuit television sites in the U.S.