Rocked by allegations of political meddling and misconduct, officials at the troubled war-crimes tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, announced Tuesday that charges have been dropped against five terror suspects the Pentagon has said are dangerous al-Qaida operatives.
All five had alleged ties to terror kingpin Abu Zubaydah, the Saudi-born militant believed to have served as a recruiter for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
Zubaydah has not been indicted but reportedly gave evidence against the five that led to their charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism.
Four of the men, whose charge sheets were expunged from the Pentagon’s records even before the announcement of their dismissal, were reported accomplices of “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla, who was convicted last year on identical charges in U.S. federal district court in Miami.
Susan J. Crawford, a Pentagon judge overseeing the Office of Military Commissions as convening authority, gave no reason for dropping the cases. In an announcement of the actions, commissions spokesman Joseph DellaVedova said the charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled.
Although the charges against them were dismissed, the five will remain imprisoned as enemy combatants. They are Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian-born British resident; Ghassan Abdulla al Sharbi, a Saudi who told the war-crimes tribunal in 2006 that he proudly had committed the acts for which he is accused; Sufyiam Barhoumi, an Algerian and alleged bomb-maker who lost a hand to an explosion; Jabran Said Bin al Qahtani, a Saudi and purported accomplice of the other three; and Noor Uthman Muhammed, a Sudanese accused of training terror recruits for al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Defense attorneys said prosecutors cast the move as procedural, contending they needed more time to prepare for trial after the resignation earlier this month of an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who charged internal corruption of the legal process.
Lt. Col. Darrel J. Vandeveld became at least the fourth prosecutor to leave citing political intrusion or withholding of evidence from defense lawyers.