In what the Miami Herald calls "a stunning setback," the entire civilian legal defense team in a Guantanamo Bay death-penalty case has quit over claims the government was eavesdropping on confidential meetings with its client. Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri was arraigned six years ago on charges he spearheaded the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 US sailors, the New York Times reports. Nashiri was to be the first Guantanamo prisoner to face the death penalty in court under a hybrid civilian-military trial system set up in the wake of Sept. 11, but his trial has been delayed over ongoing problems, including now the defection of his legal team.
The three civilian lawyers defending Nashiri quit Friday over claims—the details of which are classified—that the government was monitoring its legal meetings, creating an ethical conflict. "We are angry about being placed in an ethically untenable position, disappointed in not being able to see the case through, and devastated to leave Mr. Nashiri, whom we genuinely like and who deserves a real chance for justice,” attorney Rick Kammen says. Kammen, as the only attorney with death penalty experience, is the important loss. The trial legally cannot move forward without a defense attorney well-versed in capital punishment. “I’ve never tried a murder case and I am certainly not qualified as learned counsel,” Lt. Alaric Piette, the only person left on Nashiri's legal team, tells the Herald. He says without someone to replace Kammen, the "court doesn't even have the veneer of fairness." Brig. Gen. John Baker says it's unclear how long it could take to find a replacement. Pretrial hearings were scheduled to start Oct. 30.