Pentagon pulls Cole charges to avoid Guantanamo hearing

The Pentagon on Thursday ended the standoff between an Army judge and President Barack Obama by dismissing war crimes charges against an alleged al Qaeda plotter accused in the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole.

The decision to withdraw the charges against Abd el Rahim al Nashiri avoided the need to arraign him Monday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Army Col. James Pohl refused last week to cancel the arraignment, despite a request from Obama that all Guantanamo cases be delayed for 120 days so that his administration could determine how to deal with each of the 250 prisoners held there.

Susan J. Crawford, the so-called convening authority for the military commissions, ended the standoff by dismissing the charges "without prejudice," Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday night.

"Nashiri may be charged at a later date,'' he said, declining to elaborate.

Crawford is a civilian appointed to her post by the Bush administration to oversee the special war court created to stage the first war crimes tribunals since World War II. Obama had instructed Defense Secretary Robert Gates to get a 120-day stay in the trials, to give his administration time to decide the best way to prosecute accused terrorists. But Pohl blocked that effort by refusing to grant the delay, saying to do so would not be "in the interests of justice."

Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian, is accused of helping orchestrate the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors were killed. If he is convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Obama is scheduled to meet Friday with the former commander of the Cole, retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, and family members of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Lippold has been sharply critical of Obama for ordering Guantanamo closed and the cases of suspected terrorists held there delayed.

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