[JURIST] US Army Col. James Pohl on Thursday stepped down [order, PDF] from the trial of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [JURIST news archive], who faces terror charges in connection with the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole [JURIST news archive] in 2000, which killed 17 American service members. Pohl, the chief judge at the Guantanamo military court, stepped down in order "to ensure continuity of the proceedings and to avoid scheduling conflicts" with the trial of accused 9/11 conspirators Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged accomplices. Pohl named [Miami Herald report] Air Force Col. Vance Spath [official profile, PDF] as his successor. The trial is currently scheduled to begin in February, with jury selection set for January. If convicted, Nashiri could face the death penalty.
This is the latest development in Nashiri's case. In December Nashiri's counsel argued before the European Court of Human Rights [official website], accusing [JURIST report] Poland of serving as a secret torture site for the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) [official website] extraordinary rendition program [JURIST news archive]. Last year Pohl ordered a mental health examination [JURIST report] for Nashiri to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. This came after Pohl refused to halt [JURIST report] further hearings in response to unsubstantiated allegations by defense counsel that the government was eavesdropping on private conversations with their client. The month before, Pohl denied a motion [JURIST report] by Nashiri's lawyers to to dismiss the alleged violations of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) [text, PDF] on the grounds that the bombing occurred "prior to the commencement of hostilities" between the US and al Queda.