Guantanamo court holds closed session discussing U.S. military influence over trials
Photo taken during an escorted visit and reviewed by the US military shows an Army soldier walking in 'Camp 6' detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, April 8, 2014 [AFP]

A U.S. military court at Guantanamo Bay met in closed session on Thursday as the judge assesses whether the head of the Guantanamo trials is exerting so much influence that a fair trial for accused al Qaeda extremists cannot be ensured.

Thursday's administrative scheduling session was part of pretrial proceedings for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi charged with plotting the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole at Aden, Yemen. The attack killed 17 American sailors.

Defense attorneys for Nashiri have said that efforts by the Pentagon convening authority overseeing the trials to reduce costs by speeding up the years-long proceedings is exerting "undue influence" over the trials.

Their main complaint is about a Jan. 7 order from Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work telling judges overseeing the trials to drop their other duties and relocate to Guantanamo Bay.

The dispute interrupted pretrial hearings for five accused conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and other suspected al Qaeda associates. The judge overseeing that trial on Wednesday halted the pretrial hearings until the relocation order is rescinded.

Defense lawyers for Nashiri on Friday plan to ask Judge Air Force Colonel Vance Spath to call a specific witness, who has not been identified.

Nashiri, 50, is charged with war crimes and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The hearings have been monitored via closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, outside Washington.

(Reporting by Tom Ramstack; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)