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US rescinds rule requiring military judges relocated to Guantanamo

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MIAMI — A new rule that required military judges presiding over the war crimes tribunals at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to relocate to the remote installation has been rescinded, the Pentagon said Friday.

The Department of Defense official who imposed the new rule reversed it two days after it prompted one judge, Army Col. James Pohl, to suspend the Sept. 11 terrorism case.

Lawyers for the five prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attack filed a motion to dismiss the charges because the rule change amounted to improper interference, or what is known as unlawful command influence under military law. The defense for the prisoner charged in the USS Cole bombing filed a similar motion and argued it before a judge at the base this week.

Pohl ruled Wednesday that the rule change created the appearance of unlawful influence and ordered an abatement of proceedings unless it was rescinded.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work imposed the new rule at the request of a Pentagon legal official who said that moving the judges to Guantanamo would speed up litigation involving prisoners facing trial by military commission.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, a spokeswoman for Work, said in a statement announcing the reversal that the Defense Department "continually reviews" elements of the military commissions. "Work believes it is important to preserve the independence of the military commission in appearance, as well as in fact."

It's not clear whether rescinding the order will resolve the issue. Lawyers for Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, a citizen of Saudi Arabia charged with carrying out the deadly attack on the USS Cole in 2000, continued to press for a dismissal based on unlawful influence, a concept enshrined in military law intended to prevent commanders from interfering with legal proceedings involving subordinates.

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