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Order requiring military judges to live at Guantanamo prompts judge to put 9/11 case on hold

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MIAMI — A military judge ordered an immediate halt Wednesday to proceedings in the Sept. 11 terrorism case because of a new Defense Department rule that requires him to relocate to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, has been based in the United States, periodically traveling to Guantanamo to preside over the military commission proceedings against five prisoners charged with planning and supporting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

In December, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work directed military commission judges to move to Guantanamo at the request of a Pentagon legal official who wanted to speed up the litigation in the three active cases.

Lawyers for the five men charged with the Sept. 11 plot filed a motion Jan. 30 seeking to have the case dismissed because of the relocation order, arguing that it was an improper attempt to interfere with the death-penalty case, or what is known as "unlawful influence" under military law.

On Wednesday, Pohl said in a 10-page ruling that the relocation order created "at least the appearance of an unlawful attempt to press the military judge to accelerate the pace of litigation and an improper attempt to usurp judicial discretion."

His ruling halts all activity in the case unless the rule is rescinded. A Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, said prosecutors are studying the ruling and had not yet decided whether to appeal.

The ruling came as another military judge presides over the case of the Guantanamo prisoner charged in the attack on USS Cole heard arguments this week on whether to dismiss that case for unlawful influence because of the relocation order.

The Sept. 11 case has moved fitfully through pretrial hearings since the five men were arraigned in May 2012 on charges that include terrorism and nearly 3,000 counts of murder. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for April. No trial date has been set.

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