WASHINGTON — A US military prosecutor is recommending the prime suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole be tried at Guantanamo in what would be the first military tribunal under the Obama administration, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
"Military commissions prosecutors have sworn charges against Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia," the Defense Department said in a statement.
The trial, in which the prosecutors were recommending the death penalty, would be the first since President Barack Obama announced in March that military tribunals could be used at Guantanamo, in a reversal from his 2009 freeze of such trials at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The charges against Nashiri allege he was "in charge of the planning and preparation for the attack on USS Cole in the Port of Aden, Yemen," in an attack that killed 17 sailors and wounded 40 more, when the perpetrators blew a 30-foot by 30-foot hole in her side, the Pentagon said.
Nashiri was also accused of planning the attempted 2000 attack on USS The Sullivans, also in Port of Aden, and the 2002 attack on the French civilian oil tanker MV Limburg, which killed a crewmember and resulted in 90,000 barrels of oil leaking into the Gulf, said the statement.
Under the Military Commissions Act of 2009, the charges against Nashiri -- which include among others terrorism; attacking civilians; attacking civilian objects; ... hazarding a vessel; using treachery or perfidy; murder in violation of the law of war -- will be forwarded to the "convening authority," Bruce MacDonald.
MacDonald will make an "independent determination as to whether to refer some, all, or none of the charges for trial by military commission," said the Pentagon.
In March, Obama lifted the ban on new military trials for Guantanamo Bay terror suspects as he issued new guidelines to ensure humane and lawful treatment of suspects deemed too dangerous to release.
Officials at the time insisted he was still determined to shutter the controversial detention facility in Cuba.
Earlier this month, however, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration had "reluctantly" reversed course its course on planning to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 plotters in a military tribunal at Guantanamo, rather than a civilian court.
The White House and Justice Department blamed opposition in Congress for imposing measures blocking the trials of Guantanamo inmates in the United States.
In one of his first acts as president in 2009, Obama halted trials at Guantanamo and announced he would close the controversial detention camp within a year.
The facility, he has said, is a "legal black hole" and "recruitment tool for terrorists" that symbolized all that was wrong with the so-called "war on terror" waged by his predecessor George W. Bush.