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9/11 judge announces retirement after nearly two-year delay in hearings


The military judge overseeing the 9/11 Guantánamo Bay case reopened preliminary hearings Tuesday for the first time in nearly two years, announcing he would retire next year before the case reaches a hearing. trial.

Air Force Col. Matthew N. McCall, the fourth judge to hold hearings in the case, said he would leave the bench in April. His decision disappointed the families of some victims of the attacks, who said it would lead to more delays in decade-old pretrial hearings. Progress has been slowed by challenges related to classified information, health concerns including the coronavirus pandemic, and, since March 2022, plea negotiations.

A new judge will be appointed when Colonel McCall leaves. His replacement will then have access to 36,000 pages of transcripts and approximately 400,000 pages of documents and exhibits, including hundreds of written decisions.

Leila Murphy, whose father was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, said McCall’s decision was “a huge setback” because for the next judge, “there is so much to work out, especially this matter.”

Ms. Murphy was at preschool the day her father was killed. She is now 25 and in her final year at New York University Law School. She has followed the case closely since traveling to Guantánamo as a guest of the prosecution in the summer of 2018 to attend a week of pre-trial proceedings. That session was led by the previous judge, Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen, who also abruptly announced his retirement and dropped the case at the start of the pandemic.

Colonel McCall obtained the case in August 2021 and held only two sets of hearings before recessing proceedings in March 2022 for plea negotiations. They remained at an impasse for more than a year while prosecutors awaited a response from the White House on whether it would approve assurances that the five defendants would not serve their sentences in solitary confinement and that they would have access to a trauma treatment program. The men were all detained for years by the CIA and subjected to simulated drowning or other forms of torture before being brought to Guantánamo Bay in 2006.

President Biden refused to sign the assurances on September 6. Nine days later, the judge filed notice of his intention to retire in April.

During Tuesday’s session, Colonel McCall quickly revealed that he planned to retire and said he was “not actively looking for a new job at this time.”

In a notice dated September 15, according to a lawyer who received a copy of it, Colonel McCall said he had chosen to retire in “the best interest of my family” and that his decision was “not influenced by no external influence from any source.” » He will be 53 years old when he leaves the service.

Clayton G. Trivett III, the lead prosecutor in the case, said in court Tuesday that prosecutors suspended plea negotiations Monday until they consult with a new war court overseer, which begins on the 8th. october. prison, rather than the possibility of capital punishment, in exchange for detailed confessions of guilt from a defendant willing to describe his role in the attacks by 19 hijackers that killed 2,976 people in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.

Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches at Yale Law School, said the next justice would face the choice of holding hearings quickly, which could raise questions about whether he was ready, or taking the time to read the voluminous file during the meeting. may slow down the process.

The Guantanamo judges are drawn from a pool of court-martial judges, military lawyers who typically leave the service in their 50s and may have spent only part of their military careers on the bench. Mr. Fidell called this situation “exactly the opposite” of judges in civil courts, “where there is an ever-changing cohort of defendants and a very stable set of judges who generally enjoy long tenures.”

Mr. Fidell said the military commission system was flawed “because no one has the guarantee of independence and longevity of tenure necessary to bring these cases to fruition while promoting public confidence in the administration of Justice “.

A previous judge in the 9/11 case, Col. Keith Parrella, left his post after less than a year to take a more prestigious post, commanding maritime force security units at U.S. embassies around the world.

Ms. Murphy planned to travel to Guantánamo this week to observe some of the resumptions of the proceedings as a representative of the advocacy group 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

She emerged as a strong advocate for plea deals with defendants that would result in an appealable conviction. She said the judge’s decision to dismiss the case provided “another reason why pleas are a solution to putting this behind us,” and, to her, further proof of “why a trial is completely unfeasible.”