By Tom Ramstack
FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) - A U.S. military court at Guantanamo Bay met in closed session on Thursday as the judge assesses whether commanders are exerting so much influence that a fair trial for accused al Qaeda extremists cannot be ensured.
Closed sessions at the U.S. naval base in Cuba normally are reserved for national security issues. Thursday's hearing was part of pretrial proceedings for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi charged with plotting the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole at Aden, Yemen. The attack killed 17 American sailors.
Defense attorneys for Nashiri have said efforts by military commanders to reduce costs by speeding up the years-long proceedings are exerting "undue influence" over the trials.
Their main complaint is about a Jan. 7 order from Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work telling judges overseeing the trials to drop their other duties and relocate to Guantanamo Bay.
The dispute interrupted pretrial hearings for five accused conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and other suspected al Qaeda associates. The judge overseeing that trial on Wednesday halted the pretrial hearings until the relocation order is rescinded.
Defense lawyers for Nashiri on Friday plan to ask Judge Air Force Colonel Vance Spath to call a specific witness, who has not been identified.
Nashiri, 50, is charged with war crimes and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The hearings have been monitored via closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, outside Washington.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)