Guantanamo Hearings Delayed After Legal Files Mysteriously go Missing

Mike O'Brien

Pretrial hearings in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals have been delayed after defense legal documents mysteriously vanished from Pentagon computers.

Confidential work documents relating to two death penalty cases began disappearing in February. Defense lawyers also say there is evidence their emails and internet searches had been monitored by unknown third parties.

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A week-long hearing into the case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of masterminding an attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors aboard the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000, was due to start this Monday.

On Thursday Army Colonel James Pohl, the judge overseeing the war crimes court at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, ordered that the hearing be rescheduled to June 11.

A second pre-trial hearing into the case of five men charged with plotting the 9/11 hijacked plane attacks, which is due to start on April 22, may also be pushed back.

The incident prompted chief defense counsel for the tribunals, Colonel Karen Mayberry, to order the Pentagon defense lawyers to stop using government computers for sensitive information, Reuters reports.

Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, who is representing Mustafa al Hawsawi in the 9/11 case, said "three to four weeks' worth of work is gone, vanished."

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He added that what appeared to be a computer folder of prosecution files had turned up on the defense lawyers' system, but said none of them had opened the files.

The defense lawyers say their files began disappearing after a hearing in February during which intelligence agents outside the courtroom cut the closed-circuit feed that was broadcasting the case to spectators and journalists. It also emerged that during the hearing what appeared to be smoke alarms in the rooms where defense lawyers met with their clients were actually microphones.

It's currently unclear who was involved in the digital security breach whichHuman Rights First, a fierce critic of the Guantanamo tribunals, called the latest disclosures "absolutely outrageous."

Daphne Eviatar, who has monitored the tribunals for the group, told Reuters: "This is just further evidence that the military commission system is a sham and that all terrorism trials should be held in real U.S. federal courts on U.S. soil, where the rules are clear, defendants' rights are respected and the verdicts will have credibility."

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