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Delay sought in Guantanamo trials

The Obama administration seeks another delay in key military commission trials of terrorism detainees, as two senators said they no longer believe inmates will be transferred to Kansas.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Obama administration is seeking another two-month delay in a handful of key military commission trials of terrorism detainees, as two key senators said Wednesday they no longer believe Guantanamo Bay inmates will be transferred to Kansas.

The previous delay granted in six commission cases ends Thursday. But a congressional staff member and a Defense Department official said the administration was about to ask the judges in those cases to grant a 60-day extension.

The congressional staffer and the defense official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. They said the Defense Department would make the request later Wednesday to the military commission judges at the U.S. naval prison in Cuba. It was unclear whether the military judges would agree.

The requests for a delay in the trials come as the Obama administration tries to meet a self-imposed deadline to close the Guantanamo Bay terror suspect detention center by January. There are currently 226 inmates at the facility.

Separately, Justice Department lawyers filed papers with a federal appeals court in Washington in the civil case of detainee Ramzi bin al Shibh, who is charged in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, indicating that they want a 60-day delay in his civil case too.

Bin al Shibh, one of five Guantanamo prisoners charged with orchestrating the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S., has a "delusional disorder" and has been treated with a medication used for schizophrenia, his lawyers say.

A hearing to determine his mental competency is scheduled for later this month.

'Impending changes'
The new filing in bin al Shibh's civil case was the first official, public signal that the administration wants a further delay of the commission trials.

The 30-page filing said the request for another delay "will be based on impending changes" to the military commissions law. Congress is working on revisions to the law but it is not clear yet when such legislation might pass.

The Justice Department also cautioned in the filing that bin al Shibh and other Guantanamo detainees may be transferred to U.S. federal courts for criminal trials.

Separately, two Republican lawmakers angry over the prospect of detainees being sent to their home state of Kansas said Wednesday they no longer would block the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees.

Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback had been standing in the way of confirmation of New York Republican Rep. John McHugh for the Army secretary job as well as Senate clearance of nominees for a host of other senior Defense and Justice department positions.

The legislative maneuver was made to protest administration policy on U.S.-held terrorism-era detainees at Guantanamo.

No longer under consideration
Roberts and Brownback said in a statement they now believe the detainees won't be relocated to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., which they had vehemently opposed. They said they reached that conclusion after discussions with the administration. The other U.S. site that has been under serious consideration for holding detainees is a maximum security prison in Standish, Mich.

Brownback said that in conversations with Obama administration officials, "they indicated to both myself and Sen. Roberts that Leavenworth was not a suitable site for detainees," Brownback said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the lawmakers' assertion that Leavenworth was no longer under consideration.