The U.S. military abruptly dropped charges against five Guantanamo Bay detainees, including one who allegedly plotted to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States, after a prosecutor charged the military was suppressing evidence that could have helped clear them.
But despite the decision, announced Tuesday, there are no plans to free the men. New trial teams are taking another look at the evidence, the military said, and after consulting with intelligence agencies will recommend whether to reinstate charges.
That means the administration of the next president will probably get to decide what to do with the cases, including that of Binyam Mohammed, accused of plotting with U.S. citizen Jose Padilla to set off a radioactive bomb and fill apartments with natural gas to blow up buildings.
Padilla was sentenced in Miami to more than 17 years in prison on charges of supporting terrorism after the "dirty bomb" allegations were discarded.
Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith has gone to U.S. and British civilian courts to obtain evidence that Mohammed, an Ethiopian who moved to Britain as a teenager, was tortured and falsely admitted to crimes to halt his agony.
Last month, Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, the prosecutor in all five cases, said the military was withholding evidence that could have helped clear the defendants. He resigned in what he called a crisis of conscience.
Stafford Smith said Vandeveld's accusations led to the dropped charges, though he added that the military has already said it plans to file new charges against Mohammed within a month.
"Far from being a victory for Mr. Mohammed in his long-running struggle for justice, this is more of the same farce that is Guantanamo," Stafford Smith said.
The Pentagon denied Vandeveld's testimony had anything to do with the charges being dropped. The Pentagon reports recommending dismissal said only that the new prosecution teams taking over the cases needed more time to evaluate them.
"I find the prosecution has been unable to complete its preparation for this case," Pentagon legal adviser Michael Chapman concluded in two of his reports.
He recommended that the Pentagon official who oversees the tribunal system, Susan Crawford, dismiss the charges without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled later. She accepted the recommendations Monday.
In addition to Mohammed, the military dropped charges against Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi, a U.S.-educated Saudi who allegedly plotted to bomb U.S. troops in Afghanistan; Jabran Said Bin al-Qahtani, a Saudi charged with helping al-Qaida make bombs in Pakistan; and Sufyiam Barhoumi of Algeria and Noor Uthman Mohammed of Sudan who allegedly trained al-Qaida recruits in Afghanistan.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the decision to drop the charges "underscores the complete failure of the indefinite detention system."