Defense seeks to move Guantanamo trials to U.S., citing lack of access to base
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A military defense lawyer asked the Pentagon on Wednesday to move the trial for an alleged bodyguard of Osama bin Laden to the U.S., saying difficult access for witnesses and the media make it impossible to hold it fairly at Guantanamo Bay.The announcement came as the Pentagon expelled two reporters from Guantanamo Bay while trying to cover an investigation into the suicides of three men at the prison.Army Maj. Tom Fleener suggested the trial for Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul could safely be held at Navy bases in the United States where there are fewer restrictions on the defense and the media.”They are making it difficult on purpose for the media to attend these trials and it’s not right,” said Fleener, who filed a change of venue motion with the Office of Military Commissions.A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said the reporters from the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times were ordered to leave because they were authorized only to cover military commission hearings, which were canceled because of the suicides last weekend. A third reporter from The Charlotte Observer, who was there to write a profile of a base official, cut his visit short after his access was restricted, Gordon said.At least one reporter, from the Herald, had obtained permission from officials at the base to visit Guantanamo after the hearings were canceled, but that was overruled in Washington, he said.Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler said in a statement: “The fact that the Pentagon declined to allow us to continue to stay was disappointing for us because we believe this is an important story for our readers and of interest to both the American public and the international community.”The military has denied requests from other news organizations, including The Associated Press, to visit the base this week to cover the investigation into the suicides.Gordon said three European news organizations who had asked to visit the base at least two months ago would be allowed to tour the detention center next week.Los Angeles Times reporter Carol Williams said she had also secured permission to visit the base after the hearings were canceled and that she and the other reporters on the base had offered to act as a pool for other media who wanted to visit the base but were denied permission.Williams, interviewed at home in Miami, also questioned why the military couldn’t accommodate more media, noting that in the past dozens had been on the base at a time.”The Pentagon didn’t want any journalists covering the operations there,” she said.Access to Guantanamo is severely restricted, with visitors required to arrive either on military planes or government-approved charters that have limited space and schedules.”A simple one-hour meeting with a client usually requires a four-day round trip by counsel,” Fleener wrote in his motion.Because of the security and travel restrictions, it is “logistically impossible” to provide an adequate defense, said Fleener.Fleener said other defense lawyers are expected to file similar motions asking that the trials be moved from Guantanamo.The Office of Military Commissions did not immediately respond to a request to comment.Al-Bahlul, who has refused to cooperate with Fleener in his defense, is one of 10 Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with crimes and facing military tribunals. The U.S. holds about 460 men at the prison on suspicion of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June whether President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering the military tribunals – the first by the United States since the World War II era.Earlier, civilian lawyers who have filed legal petitions challenging the detention of Guantanamo Bay prisoners complained to a judge in Washington that their meetings with clients had been canceled without warning because of the investigation into the suicides.Yiota Souras, an attorney for two men from Yemen, said she met with one of her clients on Tuesday but was told she could not meet with him again Wednesday, the last day of her visit. “It’s incredibly difficult to get here and we had an interrupted visit,” she said in a phone interview from Guantanamo.———Associated Press writer Gary Gentile contributed to this report from Los Angeles
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