A military judge at Guantanamo on Thursday rejected a White House request to suspend a hearing for the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, creating an unexpected challenge for the administration as it reviews how America puts suspected terrorists on trial.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said his decision was necessary to protect "the public interest in a speedy trial." The ruling came in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The bombing of the Navy destroyer in 2000 in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, killed 17 U.S. sailors.
It seemed to take the Pentagon and White House completely by surprise.
"We are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in the case," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, adding that he doubted the decision would hamper the administration's ability to decide how to move forward from Guantanamo.
Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "The Department of Defense is currently reviewing Judge Pohl's ruling. We will be in compliance with the president's orders regarding Guantanamo."
President Obama has ordered the detention center to be closed within a year. The administration asked last week for a 120-day suspension in proceedings against about 20 detainees as it considers whether to continue trying alleged terrorists in the military commissions.
Obama signed an executive order directing Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ensure that "all proceedings of such military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered … are halted."
But Pohl wrote in his ruling that "on its face, the request to delay the arraignment is not reasonable."