After nearly the entire defense team for the USS Cole bombing suspect resigned under the suspicion that the U.S. government was spying on their conversations with their client at Guantanamo Bay, the judge in the case on Wednesday sentenced chief defense counsel Brig. Gen. John Baker to 21 days in confinement in his quarters and a $1,000 fine for contempt, the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg reports.
The issue boiled down to the mid-October departure of three defense lawyers from the bombing suspect's case. Baker had released the attorneys, citing secret information. The judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, ruled Baker acted out of turn:
Spath ruled that only a judge, not Baker, had the authority to excuse lawyers of record — and ordered the general to swear an oath and answer questions about the episode.
Baker stood three rows behind the defendant and refused, invoking a privilege.
The judge then ordered the general to rescind his decision to excuse the three lawyers. "I'm definitely not doing that," the Marine general replied. Baker maintains that under the war court rule book he has the unchecked authority to release defense attorneys for "good cause." [Miami Herald]
In addition to finding Baker guilty of contempt, Spath voided Baker's order releasing the three defense attorneys.
The defense's client, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia, stands accused of organizing the 2000 al Qaeda suicide bombing on the USS Cole off of Yemen, which killed 17 Americans. After the departure of the attorneys in October, Nashiri was only represented by the legal team's most junior member, who has no death penalty experience. Legally, the case cannot move forward without an experienced capital punishment lawyer, although Spath ruled Wednesday for the case to proceed because no alternatives were available. Read more about the case at the Miami Herald.