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U.S. should drop charges against USS Cole bombing suspect, defense says

By Lacey Johnson

FORT MEADE Md. (Reuters) - The United States should drop charges against a Guantanamo Bay prisoner accused of masterminding the 2000 bombing of a U.S. warship off Yemen because the U.S. military planned similar attacks during World War Two, defense lawyers argued on Wednesday.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent, is charged with orchestrating a suicide bombing against the USS Cole using a boat filled with explosives in a Yemeni port. The attack killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 42.

Nashiri's lawyers showed 21 minutes of an archival film that demonstrated how to attack an enemy vessel using a disguised boat filled with explosives. The video was produced by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, a precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The United States cannot charge Nashiri for war crimes if it condones the use of concealed explosive boats as an acceptable form of naval warfare, said Air Force Captain Daphne Jackson, a defense attorney.

The prosecution responded that disguised boats were never used in combat.

Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, the military judge overseeing the trial, is considering the argument along with several other pretrial motions.

The defense has also requested a magnetic resonance imaging scan of Nashiri’s brain to see if head trauma may have occurred during his imprisonment. Nashiri was captured in Dubai in 2002 and held in secret CIA custody until his transfer to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006.

“The defense is going to try every tactic ... to stall,” said Ron Francis, whose teenage daughter, Lakeina Francis, was killed in the Cole attack. Francis spoke at a news briefing following Wednesday’s hearing.

“It’s over 14 years now. We need to resolve this,” said Francis.

Nashiri's trial is tentatively set to begin in February.

The pretrial hearing at Guantanamo Bay ended on Wednesday and is set to resume in September. The hearing was monitored by closed-circuit television at a news media room at Fort Meade, Maryland, outside Washington.

(Editing by Ian Simpson, Doina Chiacu and Mohammad Zargham)

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