U.S. military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a Saudi man who allegedly is a top al-Qaida operative in their reaffirmation of charges against the Guantanamo detainee over the attack on the USS Cole warship in 2000, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
If the Obama administration approves the death penalty recommendation, it would be the first capital case under President Barack Obama.
Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent, is charged with planning and preparing the attack on the warship off Yemen that killed 17 sailors and wounded 40. Suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the Cole, blowing a massive hole in its side.
The United States accuses the detainee, captured in Dubai in 2002, of being al-Qaida's operations chief for the Arabian Peninsula.
Although military prosecutors are recommending the death penalty, that is subject to approval, according to a Pentagon statement.
Prosecutors sent the charges to the Pentagon appointee overseeing the Guantanamo tribunals, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald. As "convening authority," he will decide whether to refer the charges for trial and whether it will be prosecuted as a death penalty case.
Nashiri, who is being held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also was charged with planning a 2002 attack on a French oil tanker off Yemen and with plotting an attempted attack on another U.S. ship in 2000.
The charges announced against Nashiri included terrorism, murder and other crimes.
In 2008, Nashiri was charged in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal with conspiring with al-Qaida, murder, and other suspected crimes. Those charges were dropped in 2009 to give the Obama administration time to review Guantanamo cases and detention policy.
Like the original charges under the Bush administration, the charges announced Wednesday recommended the death penalty, making Nashiri the first capital case filed at Guantanamo under the Obama administration, which lifted its moratorium on new Guantanamo charges in early March.
Neither administration has said publicly how or where defendants would be executed if convicted in the tribunals.
Some evidence against Nashiri could be compromised by the CIA's acknowledgment it used the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding on him.
CIA agents also revved a power drill close to Nashiri's head and threatened him with a gun in efforts to scare him into giving information, according to a CIA inspector general's report that was partly made public in 2009.
It was unclear where those incidents took place, but Polish prosecutors are investigating Nashiri's claims that he was tortured by interrogators at a secret CIA prison in Poland before he was moved to Guantanamo in 2006.
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