MiamiHerald / In rapid succession Tuesday, a Marine general refused to testify and refused to rescind an order releasing three civilian defense lawyers, a Navy defense attorney refused to file pleadings and a military judge scheduled a contempt hearing in the USS Cole death-penalty case.

All were firsts at the war court created after the Sept. 11 attacks to handle national security cases, as judge Air Force Col. Vance Spath sought to stabilize a collapsed defense team in the case against Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. The 52-year-old Saudi is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s Oct. 12, 2000 warship bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors, and could be executed if convicted.

Miami Herald USS Cole case hearing trial guide

The issue of the moment was how to continue pretrial hearings in the absence of a criminal defense attorney with death-penalty experience. Although by law a capital case requires a so-called learned counsel, Spath concluded the case could go forward because one wasn’t available.


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